+
3 Tutorials that teach Surrealism
Take your pick:
Surrealism

Surrealism

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore Surrealism.

(more)
See More

Try Sophia’s Art History Course. For Free.

Our self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial

An overview of the Surrealist movement in art.

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Surrealism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe influences on the development of Surrealism, and identify examples of Surrealist artwork.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Surrealism, 20th century art movement and style characterized by imagery and subject matter of the subconscious. Unconscious mind, the part of the mental process where thoughts are not controlled. Exquisite corpse, technique used by Surrealists where words or images are created, collected, and assembled in a concealed collaboration. Be a good name for a band too. And psychic automatism, technique used by Surrealist artists where chance and random mark making allow freedom from the decision making process in creating artwork.

The big idea for today, Surrealism was strongly influenced by the artwork of Giorgio di Chirico, the Dada movement, and the teachings of Sigmund Freud. So the art there we're looking at today dates from between 1913 and 1948. We'll be traveling to Rome, Italy, we're Giorgio di Chirico died in 1978, Paris, France, where Andre Masson died in 1987, Vigueras, Catalonia in Spain, the home of Salvador Dali. Basil, Switzerland, where Meret Oppenheim died in 1985, Brussels, Belgium where Rene Magritte died in 1967, and Coyoacan, Mexico. the home of Frida Kahlo.

So Surrealism in a nutshell is-- here's our big nut-- depictions of dream imagery, imagery from the subconscious and unconscious mind, and/or imagery meant to liberate the unconscious mind. And I'll show you examples of both today.

The Surrealist movement was really begun by the Dada poet Andre Breton, who was inspired by the metaphysical painting The Red Tower by Greek-born artist Giorgio di Chirico. Early in his career, Chirico depicted rather bleak landscapes with anachronistic imagery and strong contrasts between light and dark, all of which you can see here. Created a sense of mystery and unease, in a sense attempting to depict the unseen imagery of the mind.

This had a strong influence on artists like Salvador Dali, who was also influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud in the field of psychology and interpretations of the unconscious mind. This painting by Dali called The Persistence of Memory is perhaps the most famous example of Surrealist work. Definitely the most famous from Dali. The melting and limp clocks hang and slide off of surfaces. Interpretations vary, but on a whole it doesn't really seem to make a whole lot of sense.

That's really the point. Surrealists like Dali and Rene Magritte-- who we'll take a look at just a few moments-- attempted to depict the disjunction of reason in irrational dream imagery of the unconscious mind in the most naturalistic, detailed way possible.

Now compare that to this ink on paper drawing from French artist Andre Masson. Andre Breton, in his Surrealist Manifesto, described Surrealism as pure psychic automatism. This could take on the form of automatic painting, automatic writing, or in this case, automatic drawing. Now as opposed to the reactive imagery of Dali and Magritte, which depicted the unconscious mind, Masson's automatic drawing is proactive in its attempts to liberate the unconscious mind through an artistic style that resembles automatic writing.

But Surrealism wasn't just limited to painting or drawing. Sculpture existed as well. And although the artist Meret Oppenheim has historically been suggested as rather indifferent to the symbolism of her work, or at least of this work, many interpretations from critics have been posited. Given you the ubiquity of Freudian psychological symbolism that existed at the time-- this is during the '30s-- critics have pointed out that sexual undertones exist in the phallic shape of the spoon, for example, and the symbolism of the cup representing female genitalia as well as the association with the human mouth.

Oppenheimer herself said she was only considering the contrast of material textures based on a discussion she had with Pablo Picasso. This brings up an interesting question in where the meaning associated with art originates. Where some people see only furry chinaware, others may see the Surrealist underpinnings of the creation of incongruity and the departure from reality.

So this painting by Rene Magritte of Belgium is more than just the image of a pipe. Magritte's painting was more of a philosophical question regarding the nature of reality. And his point is rather clear. This is not a pipe. It is the image of a pipe. It is not real. And I would have to agree.

In 1940 Andre Breton traveled to Mexico and appropriated the entire country as the Surrealist place par excellence. He met with Frida Kahlo and subsequently appropriated her art for the Surrealist movement. Even though Kahlo herself never considered herself a true Surrealist. She said that her painting was simply depicting life the way she saw it, which is a bit unsettling upon first glance. Even though she may not have identified as a Surrealist, the label seems fair on at least a cursory overview, given what appears to be a depiction of disconnected mental imagery.

However, on closer inspection, the central theme seems to be one of a deeply personal nature scattered with imagery of past and then present events from her life, like a lifetime flashing before the eyes of the central character, who's thought to be Frida herself, you can see in the middle picture, on the verge of drowning in the water. Now taken in this context, it's a rather touching depiction of human reflection and sadness.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe influences on the development of Surrealism, and identify examples of Surrealist artwork?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Surrealism was strongly influenced by the artwork of Giorgio di Chirico, the Dada movement, and the teachings of Sigmund Freud.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Surrealism"

Key Terms

Surrealism

A 20th-century art movement and style characterized by imagery and subject matter of the subconscious.

Unconscious Mind

The part of the mental process where thoughts are not controlled.

Exquisite Corpse

A technique used by Surrealists where words or images are created, collected, and assembled in a concealed collaboration.

Psychic Automatism

A technique used by Surrealist artists where chance and random mark making allow freedom from the decision making process in creating artwork. 

Citations

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Surrealism

    A 20th-century art movement and style characterized by imagery and subject matter of the subconscious.

  • Unconscious Mind

    The part of the mental process where thoughts are not controlled.

  • Psychic Automatism

    A technique used by Surrealist artists where 'chance and random mark making' allow freedom from the decision making process in creating artwork.

  • Exquisite Corpse

    A technique used by Surrealists where words or images are created, collected, and assembled in a concealed collaboration.