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Surrealism - Art That Literally Captures


Sur - a prefix meaning “over, above,” Ex.

Surname; surrender
Realism - a representation of how things really
are, or being practical and facing facts.

Characteristics of Surrealism
Automatic writing
Automatic writing pertains to the literary side of Surrealism, its techniques
seep into the process of art-making. It means to write whatever comes
into your head. In art making, Surrealist artists adhered to this by going
with the flow, including imagery in their works that sprung to their minds.

Joan Miro 

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape), 1923-24.

Joan Miro helmed a wide array of Surrealist works over the course of his
practice, but the one that continues to stand out most is The Harlequin’s
Carnival. Whilst filled with complex, visually indecipherable forms, this
work is, in fact, an abstraction of Miro’s homeland in Catalonia, Spain. This
work contains eerie imageries that seem to unnerve viewers through their
organic nature, and teems with elements that seem to defy nature. It has
also been said to be viewed as a commentary on Spain’s past and its
political upheaval.

This references the connections that are made between the absurd, in the
spaces between the thoughts and ideas that are formed in the
subconscious. Surrealists enjoyed associating such thoughts with one
another, regardless of how distinct they were.

 Rene Magritte

Son of Man, 1964. Private collection.

Another piece of iconic Surrealist art is Son of Man by Rene Magritte. He

did this as a representation of himself in the style of a self-portrait, stating
that “everything we see hides another thing”. It seeks to highlight how
what is visible does not necessarily show the entire truth, and how the
conflict might exist between the “visible that is hidden and the visible that
is present”.

The roots of Surrealism denote the productivity of rationality, from the
effects of World War I to that of the middle and upper classes. Only be
disregarding the irrational did Surrealists believe that individuals could
then access the irrational, a completely different realm that exists
mutually exclusive of the rational mind.

Being irrational is a huge part of Surrealist identity. For example, a clock

might suddenly start melting, a man’s facial characteristics might assume
that of an apple, and it might start raining men.

Dreams & Fantasies

Through the imageries that were just mentioned can we easily derive the
next characteristic of Surrealism - dreams & fantasies. Surrealists extract
visuals from the unconscious mind to create art devoid of logical
comprehension. Like how Impressionists seek inspiration from nature,
Surrealists find theirs from this ‘psychic automatism’. They seek to
channel this unconscious to unlock the power of their imagination, with
this imagination derived from the dreamscapes they might encounter.

The Unconscious
A key factor of Surrealism is the unconscious, but what does tapping into it
truly entail? It means to enter the repressed memories, our underlying
unexplainable fears, and turn that potential into something creative.

This is where the crazy dissociative world of Surrealism comes into play.
That anxiety-ridden dream where you’re in a fun house with a hundred
mirrors and no escape; the ones with critters crawling all over you; that
infamous one where you’re free-falling to your death. All such themes
drove Surrealists to create the imageries and texts that came out of that
movement. That, even after a wee bit of psychoanalysis, proves that
sometimes we have no idea what we want or why our bodies behave that
way. It is through this apprehension that we too can channel such
Surrealist thought to create whatever it is we desire.

Freedom Of Love (By Andre Breton)

“My wife with the hair of a wood fire

With the thoughts of heat lightning

With the waist of an hourglass

With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger

My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude

With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth

With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass

My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host.” (Lines 1-8)

japanese Surrealist photography by Kansuke Yamamoto

(Left) ‘The Closed Room,’ 1959

(Right) ‘Work,’ 1956.