The Subconscious Surrealism was a style of art and literature that stressed the subconscious or non rational. Surrealist images emerged from the practice of automatism or through the exploitation of chance effects, or unexpected juxtapositions.
More than an art movement Surrealism was not only an art movement, but a philosophy that embraced literature, music, cinema, and popular culture.
Automatism Surrealist poets experimented with Automatism, a form of writing that had poets trying to record their thoughts, without conscious control and without any conscious regard for aesthetic or moral considerations.
Surrealist artists thought of their images as visual poems. They were suggestive, rather than descriptive. Like poems, their full impact can be simply enjoyed, rather than explained.
Surrealism flourished in Europe between World Wars I and II. It grew out of the earlier Dada movement, which before World War I produced works of anti-art that deliberately defied reason; but Surrealism’s emphasis was not on negation but on positive expression.
Surrealism was a reaction against the destruction wrought by the "rationalism" that had guided European culture and politics in the past and had culminated in the horrors of World War I.
According to the major spokesman of the movement, the poet and critic André Breton, who published "The Surrealist Manifesto" in 1924, Surrealism united conscious and unconscious realms of experience so that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in "an absolute reality, a surreality."
Drawing heavily on theories adapted from Sigmund Freud, (the Swiss psychiatrist) Breton saw the unconscious as the wellspring of the imagination. He defined genius in terms of accessibility to this normally untapped realm, which, he believed, could be attained by poets and painters.
Marc Chagall – 1887 - 1985 The Russian painter Marc Chagall was an early inspiration for the Surrealist movement. While he always kept one foot planted in the real Russian soil that produced him, he was one of the first to free his visual imagination “from the bonds of reason and convention,” and his work served as inspiration for the Surrealists.
There is an exhibition of work by Chagall showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario right now. Go and see it if you can before it closes in January.
Giorgio de Chirico – 1888 - 1978 De Chirico was an Italian painter whose works from the period 1909 to 1919, were to have an influence on the Surrealist movement that would form a few years later. De Chirico read and admired the writing of Nietzsche, the nihilist philosopher; when De Chirico travelled through the city of Turin, on his way to Paris in 1911, he felt he had found Nietzsche’s city, and created several disquieting paintings of desolate urban landscapes.
Giorgio De Chirico (Italian) Melancholy and the Mystery of the Street
Salvador Dali Salvador Dali is often the first name we associate with Surrealism, but he did not join the movement until 1929, five years after its founding, and he was kicked out of the movement in 1939, because of his fascist leanings.
Dali was something of an exhibitionist; he loved to gain publicity by shocking or provoking his critics. He spent the war years (WWII) in America, where he made a fortune working with advertisers and with Disney.
Europe was on the brink of war when Dali painted this mysterious work. The melting telephone suspended in a broken tree of life suggests a breakdown in communication, as world leaders tried to appease Hitler. The umbrella is a reference to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who always carried a black umbrella. Hitler ridiculed him and the umbrella came to be seen as a symbol of weakness and appeasement.
This enigmatic image is one of Dali’s best known paintings. The melting clock motif was one he explored repeatedly in numerous paintings and sculptures (clock makers have actually produced and sold products modeled on Dali’s clocks)
The distortion of the clocks suggests the way that time is distorted by the subconscious. In dreams, time often seems fluid; events do not follow in a linear or chronological sequence.
Geopolitical Child A new world power “hatches” from the egg shaped globe, emerging from the United States. Chamberlain’s umbrella is in tatters, and the infant has a powerful grip on Britain, the world power that was so reduced by World War II.
Salvador Dali The Burning Giraffe Here we see one of Dali’s motifs, the drawers that suggest the hidden contents of the human subconscious
Salvador Dali – Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carol’s story of the girl who fell down a rabbit hole held a special fascination for Dali, as Alice’s journey is a voyage into the subconscious, the realm of surrealism.
Magritte loved to use the props of normalcy in order to upend, invert and collapse them, leading the viewer into the unknown territory where life leaves off and art begins. "The mind loves the unknown," he avowed, "it loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown."
The Treachery of Images is perhaps Magritte’s best known work. Magritte is reminding the viewer that an image is just an image.
Magritte Attempting the Impossible Here again, Magritte warns of the impossibility of creating an ideal reality through art.
Magritte's work frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."
1912, Magritte’s mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. According to a legend, 13-year-old Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, but recent research has discredited this story, which may have originated with the family nurse. Supposedly, when his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several paintings Magritte painted in 1927–1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants.
Magritte's constant play with reality and illusion has been attributed to the early death of his mother. Psychoanalysts who have examined bereaved children have said that Magritte's back and forth play with reality and illusion reflects his "constant shifting back and forth from what he wishes—'mother is alive'—to what he knows—'mother is dead' "