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Surrealism: the Connection of Conscious Meaning and Fantasy

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Surrealism: The Connection of Conscious Meaning and Fantasy
Where the Dada movement can be looked at as an instigator for a postwar “against-the-grain” art form and lifestyle, the Surrealist movement is the progression that stemmed from this beginning. Although the Dada movement was a direct response to World War I and its destruction, it was one that seemed negative and depressing in its approach. Their main slogan, “Plus rien, rien, RIEN, RIEN, RIEN” (Nothing more, nothing, nothing, NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING), reflected their “nihilism, or lack of belief in anything” (MSN Encarta, 2007). It was more of a politically rebellious action, rather than a solution that delved further to explore other options, as Surrealism was. Surrealism was mainly psychological, philosophical, and positive in its approach. Andre Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement, explained his idea of Surrealism in his 1929 book Second Manifesto of Surrealism: "Everything leads us to believe that there is a certain state of mind from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, height and depth are no longer perceived as contradictory" (, 1996). This exploration of the subconscious is much more in-depth than the simple anti-art statement it was once created from. Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain from 1917 ( as well as his piece L.H.O.O.Q. from 1919 ( are great examples of this playful and cynical view from the Dada era (, 1996-2007). In contrast, the depth of Dali’s The Great Paranoiac (1936) is astounding ( More than just a double image of human bodies and a face, it can be seen as a message regarding the overt influences of those around us, and how people can mold and shape others into who they ultimately become.
Another trait of surrealist art is the “incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter,” (, 2002). An example of this would be Joan Miro’s Still Life with Old Shoe (1937). “It consists of an apple, into which a lethal, six-tined fork has been stuck; a gin bottle shrouded in torn newspaper, secured with a thong; a heel of bread; and a left shoe, its lace untied. The apple is brown, so perhaps rotten; the bread is dried; the shoe worn,” (, n.d.).
( This painting is also a dark political piece, “an exile’s meditation on war and loss,” ( It still maintains the anti art tradition of exposing the devastation of wartime, while going beyond the “surprise” factor of the Dadaists and adding a deeper element of meditation to the palette.
The Surrealists believed that tapping into the subconscious was a means of gaining insight towards “real” reality. The movement was deeply influenced by the “psychoanalytic” work of Freud, and later also Jung. Freud's “free association and dream analysis” was seen as liberation to the imagination (Wikipedia, 2007). Many Surrealists wanted to shock spectators with work that was “quite cruel and violent as well as very beautiful,” (, 1998-2005). This unique quality was excellent in making other think “outside the box” and have paradigm shifts form their normal ways of thinking about anything.
To reach this level of insight, one could say it was like bordering on the edge of sanity, crossing over towards insanity. Even the idea of insanity was held in a high esteem in the world of Surrealism; madness could bring about “real” hallucinations, or maybe a juxtaposition of objects that a sane person would find difficult to comprehend. Because of this belief, many Surrealist artists are questionably sane themselves--not because of the pieces they complete, but because their fascination with suicide and insanity (Encarta MSN, 2007). Because Surrealists object with the logic and reasoning of the time (between 1924 and 1945), imagination and inspiration become the Surrealist’s only real source of meaning (, 1998-2005).
Among these major Surrealist painters were: Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, René Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Pierre Roy, Paul Delvaux, and Joan Miró. With its emphasis on content and free form, Surrealism “provided a major alternative to the contemporary, highly formalistic Cubist movement and was largely responsible for perpetuating in modern painting the traditional emphasis on content” (, 2002). This type of emphasis seems to highly rely on symbolism. The objects chosen were carefully placed within the painting so as to invoke certain nostalgia to the viewer. “An essential component to understanding Surrealist work is the idea that the mind makes subtle connections between unrelated objects. For that to be present the observer must have had previous experience, or memory” (Newmedia, n.d.). As a result of the war, the benefits of progress were questioned due to the aftermath of mass destruction; an appreciation of the “charming qualities of old things, the character of objects” became popular (n.d.). Nostalgia was essential to the Surrealists’ work and their attempt to invoke memories by use of associating random objects (n.d.).
One important theme for Surrealist painters was time. Salvador Dali was known for his abstract concepts of time, along with many other fantastic paintings and sculptures. Dali’s “melting clocks and harsh desert scenes” are a highly symbolic icon of his work (Encarta MSN, 2007). Born in Figueras, Catalonia, Dali was educated at the School of Fine Arts, Madrid. After 1929 he “espoused” surrealism; his paintings from this period depict dream imagery and everyday objects in unexpected forms, such as the famous limp watches in The Persistence of Memory.
Sticking to the theme of progression with the Surrealist movement, Dali moved on from the movement itself to do more than what was outlined there. He went beyond the Surrealist painting--he designed and produced Surrealist films, illustrated books, handcrafted jewelry, and created theatrical sets and costumes. Among his writings are ballet scenarios and several books (, 2002). Looking at Dali as a symbol of the progression of art and cultural movement, perhaps it is justified that he stemmed his own work and grew beyond Surrealism. Just as the Dada movement advanced modern art and started the ball rolling, Surrealism continued the positive movement; great Surrealist artists such as Dali pushed this advancement even further, to where it is today.

Artlex on Dada. (1996-2007). Retrieved October 21, 2007, from
French Literature: MSN Encarta. (2007). Retrieved online on October 18, 2007, from
Glossary Term: Surrealism. (1998-2005). Retrieved online on October 19, 2007, from
Joan Miro. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2007, from Sur-real: Surrealist Writers. (1996-2004). Retrieved online on October 20, 2007, from
Surrealism. (2002). Retrieved online on October 19, 2007, from Surrealism. (2007). Retrieved October 18, 2007, from

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