Surrealism for Dummies

Hari K Tadepalli (
Fri, 07 Nov 97 09:22:00 PST

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There are zillions of web resources on Surrealism. Here I got some info from a
couple of them. Aren't 'surrealism' and 'principles' contradictory to each other
? Inquiring ignoramus would like to know ! 

The #pilla pATalu# might have only been minimally surrealistic; after all, they
connote real events and incidents; in my opinion, they are put together to evoke
humor by narrating funny incidents; or in most cases by juxtaposing a serious
antecedent with a trivial consequence, as is the case with most jokes and
Here is another children's rhyme with hints of surrealism: 

        "# subbI gobbI
        pouDaru DabbI
        chiTTI poTTI 
        sigareT peTTI #"

T. Hari Krishna
Surreal:  Having the intense irrational reality of a dream
Surrealism:  The principles, ideals of producing fantastic or incongruous
imagery or effects in art, literature, film or theater by unnatural
juxtapositions and combinations
Surrealistic:   Having a strange dream like atmosphere or quality like that of a
surrealist painting
The Merriam Webster Dictionary
Surrealism in art - a style in which imagery is based on fantasy and the world
of dreams - grew out of a French literary movement founded during the 1920s. 
The term surrealist was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917; the artistic
movement, however, came into being only after the French poet Andre BRETON
published the first surrealist manifesto, Manifeste du surrealisme, in 1924. In
this book Breton suggested that rational thought was repressive to the powers of
creativity and imagination and thus inimical to artistic expression.  An admirer
of Sigmund Freud and his concept of the subconscious, Breton felt that contact
with this hidden part of the mind could produce poetic truth. 
Breton soon recognized the kinship between his literary aims and the artistic
aims of certain painters fascinated by Freudian concepts. In 1925, with Breton's
encouragement, the first group exhibition of surrealist painting took place in
Paris. Among those included were Giorgio de Chirico, Max Ernst, André Masson,
Joan Mir&oauml, Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray. 
The presurrealist paintings of de Chirico, done before 1919, were of particular
influence to certain of the surrealists, including Max Ernst, Salvador Dali,
Rene Magritte, and Yves Tanguy. These painters developed a dreamlike, or
hallucinatory, imagery that was all the more startling for its highly realistic
rendering. Other painters, including Miro and Masson, used biomorphic forms and
accidental effects that approached abstraction. Their work influenced the
beginnings of abstract expressionism in the United States during the 1940s. 
Although it began partly as a reaction to dada, surrealism benefited from Dada's
liberating effects. Some of Dada's techniques were adopted by the surrealists,
including assemblage, a form of sculpture consisting of combinations of
incongruous objects and materials. Meret Oppenheim's Object (Fur-Lined Cup and
Saucer) (1936; Museum of Modern Art, New York City) is a key example. Ernst's
surreal "novels," two books of collages of strangely unrelated images, were a
continuation of his Dada Collage concepts. 
The surrealist painters also looked to the past for inspiration, to such
painters of fantasy as Hieronymus Bosch, to the Mannerists, and to the romantic
and symbolist movements, as well as to primitive art and the art of the insane. 
Whether or not surrealism has ceased as a movement, its influences can be
detected in all the major art movements that have come into being since 1945. 

Text from the Grolier Encyclopedia.

To describe what the entire surrealist movement was about, in just one page,
would be an extremely difficult task. Fortunately, one does not have to be an
expert on surrealism in order to appreciate Giger's work. However, there are
certain factors that should be kept in mind while viewing a (semi)surrealist
work such as Giger's.
More so than anything else, one must remember that surrealism is the expression
of dreams. These dreams are expressed without any concern for reason,
convention, or rational thought. They are uninhibited expressions of the
subconscious. One of the underlying themes of surrealism is that by seeing
someone else's subconscious thoughts on a canvas, those thoughts will inherently
communicate with your subconscious thoughts. The net effect of this will be to
cause the viewer to have some kind of emotional response. However, he or she may
not be able to identify or understand what kind of response the painting caused,
or even, how the response was caused. In essence then, it is the unconscious
that plays the primary role in creating and observing this type of art. 
Surrealism affected all forms of artistic expression. In literature, surrealism
manifest itself in the form of automatism. Automatism, sometimes referred to as
stream of consciousness writing, consists of writing down whatever words come to
mind. Just as with the art, this writing is supposed to go straight from the
mind to the paper, without any kind of interference from ones consciousness. 
The effect of this wring is supposed to be similar to that of the art. When
people read surrealist works, their unconscious's should be affected by what the
unconscious of another has created. The phrase "Elephants are contagious," by
Paul Eluard, is one of the more famous surrealist sayings and is designed to
illustrate that point.
The history of surrealism is a rather short one. Surrealism grew out of the
Dadaist movement of the early 20th century. Both movements believed that the
subconscious should play an instrumental role in the creative process. However,
while the Dadaist movement was primarily a movement against art, the surrealism
movement focused on, and really believed in, the development of unconscious art.
 Andre Breton, the French poet and critic, is often credited as being the
founder of surrealism. In 1924 he wrote the Surrealist Manifesto in Paris.
Breton stayed at the forefront of the movement and played an instrumental role
in helping it spread throughout the world. Surrealism saw its strongest growth
spurt in America, during WWII. Many people now credit surrealism, and the ideals
of free creation that it epitomized, as being the starting point of abstract
It is difficult to make accurate generalizations about Surrealism because the
movement has differed a great deal from artist to artist. René Magritte, for
example, tried to create a realistic dreamlike state on canvas. 
Daniel M. Baum