Critically Assess the Movement of Surrealism

The purpose of this essay is to provide evidence and to investigate as many relevant factors to assemble together to understand how surrealism has impacted and has been integrated within photography and the art medium. To do this, the history of surrealism has to be included, and the understand how the Dada movement was formed, along with what it’s intension was for starting. Also, critically assessing the movement of surrealism; how the down fall of Dadaism may have developed into the movement surrealism.

Including, how historic events have had an impact on art as a whole, and to understand the idea of what surrealism truly represents and want it is intending to achieve; whether it is to be portrayed as a warped view of realism, or whether it to be interpreted as a delusion or dream-like fantasy portrayal. Because of how surrealism varies with how it is represented and perceived, this essay will provide a range of varied views, as well as, accumulating some of the evidence in relevance to the ideas being put forward throughout the essay.

To assess the impact that surrealism has had on art, but especially the impact surrealism has had within photography. Moreover, analysing the evidence provided by critics of surrealism, and understanding why they believe that surrealism isn’t a convincing movement to endorse and to be upheld.

Throughout the essay, there will be supportive text and imagery that will include photographers and artists that have depicted surrealism as well as various other texts; such as articles, publications and additional medias and providing a case study, that will validate statements that are being presented.

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Some of the artists that will be referred to for referencing include: Theo Van Does burg, Ren? Magritte, Richard Burbridge, Luca Pierro, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Brian Duffy, and Clare Strand. Also, providing evidence from the history of the movement that was Dadaism, and how it has led to the movement of surrealism.

The Dada Movement, was launched in 1916 in Zurich, Swizerland, in which was manufactured and generated by the poets and artists of that time as a form of expression. It was an outspoken reaction to the carnage, that surrounded the entirety of the First World War. The Dadaists channelled their distaste of the war into an indictment of the nationalist and materialist values that had been made apparent, due to the uprising of the war. The dada movement was deemed a political act.

Regardless of the subjects of their work, their main philosophy challenged views of government, society and main institutions. ‘Some of the most significant artist within the movement were extremely, politically active’ (Krishner-Breen, S. Dadaism and the rejection of Reason, 2017. Retrieved from Artists that consisted of: poets, painters, performers and photographers were unified not by a common style of artistry, but by a rejection of the principles and customs in art that they fought so hard against. There by, ‘seeking through their unorthodox techniques, performances and provocations to shock society into self-awareness’ ( Ades, D and Gale, M. (2003). Dada. Retrieved from ). This meaning that the Dadaist wanted to detract the attention away from the war, and focus on what they believed were more significant issues.

The image ‘Portrait of a man’ (Fig 1) was a product of the dada movement which portrays a collage effect image of a male looking directly into the audience. The image challenges what traditional art represents, in the sense of how Doesburg has interpreted a ‘portrait’, and has produced a picture in which would raise question and reservations about the construction and the overall presentation, by the manipulation and deconstruction of art values. There are so many minor details in the image that almost detract your attention away from the subject (The male figure).

Such as, the bold solid block of the colour red extended up the picture. Contrasted with cooler tones throughout the image; pulling your attention throughout the illustration. Creating a juxtaposition of colour, lines, and varied elements. This would challenge the norm, by firstly, not being able to identify who the character is, and also, to figure out what the purpose of the image is meant for, if it isn’t a generic ‘portrait’. There are so many techniques used in this image, for example, cubism, collage, and Post-Impressionism. But executed in a way which makes it unique, expressing his idea of what art is and should be, personally.

As the First World War came to an end, a lot of the Dadaism activists retreated back to their native counties or moved to America where they were able to speak and create freely, regarding their opinions on the ‘norm’ of art and their distaste for it. Carrying out their freedom to express themselves through art and not having to conform to the ‘ideal’; causing the down fall of the movement that was Dadaism. Never the less, due to the concepts and ideas that Dadaism created and instilled in artist minds, and following its collapse, the Surrealism movement was created and founded by the poet, Andr? Breton in 1924. ‘

Breton launched the first manifesto, announcing the arrival of a new movement’, the first manifesto was an assortment of artists that were willing to dissipate the idea of the ‘the norm’, rather than being just a style of art, the ‘surrealist manifesto’ had an agenda of how the movement would further progress. This affirming that Breton took the fall of Dadaism, and wanted to create a new movement which would enable other artists to evaluate their current state of time which they lived in, and create art which would articulate the political stand point they were at, at the time; pushing boundaries with new ideas and concepts. Hereby, this could potentially mean that he wanted to somewhat carry on the movement of Dadaism, but develop the movement and transform it into a more personable faction. Enabling artists to expand their creative imagination and concepts to develop and to convey it into either their writing, paintings, performances and or art.

His theory and ideology behind Surrealism was to interpret the unconscious mind and the idea to portray more fantasy, dream-like aspects that could be applied into realism art to. The artists needed to enhance the mystery element so that it could be interpreted in a way that associated and resonated with the people within the current times in which they were living and what they were experiencing. Surrealists were stimulated by Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious mind, and embraced the view of what Freud stood for.

Freud once said that “A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is left unopened” and surrealists adapted this idea to their artwork (Sanchez, M. ‘Research on Surrealism in America’. Surrealism: The Art of self- discovery. Abrstact: 23 September 2001. Page 4). The relationship between surrealism and Freud’s philosophy of the unconscious mind. No longer wanting to be restricted by the oppressive feelings they felt were upheld by the start of the Second World War, which was the time Hitler had sent shock waves and utter dismay throughout Europe. Surrealism could be considered to be a form of expression and release to the regimented state, fear, grief and oppression that the world felt.

An example of this is an image created and constructed by the surreal artist, Ren? Magritte. The title of the painting which is in reference to is entitled ‘The Secret Double’ (Fig 2). The image demonstrates surreal aspects as it portrays unnatural, abnormal, extraordinary attributes that supports the idea of surrealism and what the movement was intending to encourage and endorse. It portrays a double exposed effect that destructs the idea of realism, as it has been constructed in a way that can be interpreted as impracticable and unrealistic. Surrealism extracted elements from cubism and expressionism, and applied some of the techniques that Dadaist applied within their work also. This could be implying that the surrealism movement absorbed various methods of art that would later attract various artists that separately created inversely, but they were united with the idea that surrealism would allow them to create freely and openly.

Whereas, on the other hand, there have been many arguments as to whether Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious really inspired the movement that was surrealism, and if surrealism was a movement that artists should have supported. For the likes of Christopher Caudwell, who rejected the idea of surrealism and how art forms interpreted the movement. Caudwell’s idea of surrealism was that it ‘avoids contact with reality and reverses the progressively sharper perceptions that art affords, and it is, therefore, reactionary (Ray,P. (1969).

The Anti-Surrealism of Christopher Caudwell. Comparative Literature Studies 6(1), 61-67. Retrieved from ). His argument stems from the fact that he distrusted the fact that surrealists were interpreting Freud’s idea of surrealism by the fact that poetry was acting as an extension of reality, instead of escaping to a new reality. He maintains the thought that poetry was simply a construction of words, put together to represent conscious thoughts and experiences.

There was a case study carried out to suggest that surrealism has a positive effect on people, the study was carried out by a psychologist by the name of Verena Graupmann of DePaul University who suggests that art can provide meaning. She wrote an article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, that herself along with her colleagues had carried out an experiment to back up their result. The experiment was conducted on eighty – seven undergraduates at a major university in Germany.

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Critically Assess the Movement of Surrealism. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved from

Critically Assess the Movement of Surrealism
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