SURREALISM: AN ART MOVEMENT OF THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY
By Victoria Chick, contemporary figurative artist and early 19th & 20th Century Print Collector
“Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?” This quote by Leonardo Da Vinci shows he recognized the power of dreams back in the late 15th century.
Artist Victoria Chick discusses Surrealism, an art movement of the early 20th century, on Big Blend Radio.
But it was not until 1924 that dreams became the centerpiece of an art movement whose written goals were compiled in the Surrealist Manifesto. Andre Breton, author of the Manifesto, had been associated with the Dada Movement (about 1915 – 1925 ) but became disillusioned with that group, feeling it did not address expressing the creative unconscious, what art historian Marilyn Stokstad clarified as a higher form of reality, the Sur-reality.
Surrealism was a European movement propelled, at first, by literature but played out in visual art, theater, and film, as well as literary works. It was the outgrowth of many influences including the writings of Freud, the shock effect of nihilist Dada artists, early 20th century philosophy, and the political effects of Communism and Anarchism.
Automatism was a technique used by all three arts as a form of free association of ideas, words, and images. Planning was rejected. Ironically, the basic rules of design and composition were still followed, if subconsciously. Dreams and fantasies were revered as source material, sometimes breaking out as images of bondage or aggression. Mostly, the visual images were compositions of unrelated objects or isolated places painted in a hard-edge, precise style. The sharp clarity of dream images combined with often absurd juxtaposition of the images, was viewed by the Surrealists as liberation of mind and, with it, greater creativity. They were influenced by the French poet, Pierre Reverdy, who wrote in 1918, “The more the relationship between the juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be – the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.” In regard to the idea of liberation in the early 20th century, Surrealists were attracted by anarchy, wanting to change reality, and conventional social attitudes and restrictions of their time. Their work was less intentionally designed to offend the viewer than the art produced by their Dada predecessors. In fact, much of Surrealist art was seen by the public as amusing. If the content was hard to understand, at least there was an appreciation of the skill required to render images so meticulously.
The precision of surrealist painters was in keeping with the idea of dream clarity. Georgio de Chirico, Francis Picabia, Joan Miro, Max Ernst, and Yve Tanguy were early painters working in the context of Surrealism. A few of these painted organic shapes, but most painted images of realistic or exaggerated natural objects. Salvador Dali, probably the best known Surrealist, was not well accepted by his Surrealist contemporaries. They resented his capitalist tendencies as evidenced by his successful self–promotion, and resulting sales. Paul Delvaux was a mid-century Surrealist using art history references as part of his dreamlike settings.
Surrealism has continued as a way of seeing in contemporary times with fewer political overtones. It has influenced the development of fantasy art.
Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at www.ArtistVictoriaChick.com