Directly following on from Dadaism there was Surrealism. Its founder, a poet and writer Andre Breton, did not see eye to eye with Dada innovator Tristan Tzara, and they quarrelled on many instances, with one occasion leading to the police being called and Breton being charged with assault. It was these instances and the influences both men had with the art world that lead to Dadaist’s transition into Surrealism, with the majority of Dada’s artists following suit also. Surrealism had an emphasis on positive expression rather than the rejection or anti-art attitude of Dadaism, which is probably where the dispute lay with Tzara and Breton.
Surrealism officially emerged as a movement in 1924, with the publication of Breton’s manifesto, it was to be a revolution, slowly emerging from the older and broader streams of human creativity. This broad tapestry of influences were to be acknowledged and re-worked into Surrealism, such as the Italian Renaissance to the avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, Metaphysical art, and Dadaism.
The central attitude that shaped the movement was the changing of the times leading to a wave of new technology, which included electricity, the airplane and the motorcar, which affected the energy of the people positively.
Nowhere was this change more apparent than the First World War which began on horseback and ended with tanks. During the Second World War, many of the Surrealist’s had to evacuate France and the production of work reached a stand still.
Andre Breton a French writer and Founder of Surrealism, Breton was predominantly a philosopher, writer and thinker rather than a visual artist, although he did produce a small selection of artworks. “Pure psychic automatism” was how Andre Breton defined surrealism, and in 1919 Breton and Phillippe Soupault wrote the first automatic book, ‘Les Champs Magnetique’ while ‘the Automatic Message’ (1933) was one of Breton’s significant theoretical works about automatism.
Breton wanted to discard the conscious production of art and instead rely solely on the subconscious for inspiration. He believed that art that was accessed through the unconscious was more “real” or “true” than rational art. Although this in itself is a slight contradiction as you cannot produce art in an unconsious state, but this is where Surrealism’s close association with dreams come from.
“The philosophy of surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of the dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to destroy definitively all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principle problems in life.” Taken from the book ‘SURREALISM The Dream of Revolution’ by Richard Leslie.
Salvidor Dali was a Spanish artist, best known for his bizarre surrealist paintings. His work is believed to be influence by the Renaissance masters. Dali has an eccentric attitude to most things in life, from his clothing to his behavior which greatly annoyed his critics, but ensured his rise to fame.
Famous work by Dali include ‘The Great Masturbator’ ‘Premonition of Civil War’ and ‘The Persistance of Memory’ probably the most renowned of his work for the imagery of melting clocks.
Alberto Giacometti was a Swiss sculptor and painter. Born into an artistic family, he moved to Paris in 1922 and was an associate of Auguste Rodin. Giacommetti there experimented with both Cubism and Surrealism and came to be regarded as one of the leading Surrealist sculptors. His style is extremely savage and violent, a friend of his once commenting tat if Giacometti were to sculpt you he would make your head appear like the blade of a knife.
During WW2 the majority of artists and writers who were opposed to fascism and the Nazi regime fled to the US. Surrealism split into two groups ‘The Automatisits’ and ‘The Veristic Surrealists’ with slightly differing points of view. Breton struggled to promote Surrealism in the US, although ultimately he was given a channel for his views to be heard through ‘The View’magazine.
Elements of Surrealism continues to be a strong influence for many contemporary artists, including Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and many more.