Surrealism (artistic and Literary Movement)

what is surrealism

Surrealism is an avant-garde artistic and literary movement founded in 1924 by André Breton, which consisted of the expression of the subconscious through literature, painting, sculpture, photography and cinema.

The word surrealism comes from the French surrealisma shortening of superrealism or surrealism. The word was taken from Guillaume Apollinaire, who had used it in 1917 to subtitle a play. It means ‘what is above realism’.

Surrealist literature and art became closely linked with psychoanalysis and the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Therefore, surrealism was characterized by the investigation of the subconscious, the uninhibited expression of thought, the use of psychic automatism as a method, and the collaboration between different artistic disciplines.

Thanks to this, the surrealist movement surpassed the limits imposed on the imagination by rationalism, transformed the concept of “reality” in art and introduced new techniques and creative dynamics.

Surrealism became known on October 15, 1924, when the poet André Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto. Some of its members came from Dadaism. This movement was based on the “absurd”, and was going through a phase of aesthetic exhaustion. Surrealism took advantage of this exploration of “the absurd” and valued it as a manifestation of the unconscious.

The surrealist movement also represented a rise in artistic morality after the First World War, which ended in 1919. Therefore, it was permeable to the political ideas of the historical moment, mainly to the doctrines of the left. However, it was affected by the outbreak of World War II, which scattered its members around the world.

Characteristics of surrealism


Salvador Dali: Dalí at the age of six, when he thought he was a girl, lifting his skin from the water to see a sleeping dog in the shade of the sea. 1950. Oil on canvas. Both the image and the title express the idea of ​​the subconscious according to psychoanalysis.

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Surrealism reacted against bourgeois rationalism and the traditional artistic canon, using psychoanalytic theories. From this purpose, its main characteristics arise.

Pure psychic automatism: It consists of making subconscious images emerge automatically, through resources such as trance states, hypnosis and techniques such as the game of the exquisite corpse.

Subconscious expression: Surrealism approaches the unconscious by exploring the subconscious. For this, he represented absurd, dreamlike and fantastic realities, in which myths, fables, dreams and fantasies were projected.

Spontaneous and uninhibited expression of thought: For the surrealists, freeing thought was the only way to reach the unconscious, which expresses itself through dreams, phobias and imagination.

Interdisciplinary character: surrealism was expressed in literature, painting, sculpture, photography and film. Likewise, it favored collaboration between disciplines and the incursion of artists in areas other than their specialty. For example, the poets ventured into plastic arts and the painters ventured into poetry, photography and cinema.

Exquisite Corpse Creation: collective technique in which each participant wrote a line or drew a picture without seeing what the previous one had done. It allowed both to stimulate psychic automatism and to favor collaboration between artists.

Surrealism in painting


Joan Miro: Catalan landscape either The hunter. 1924. On the canvas, Miró has represented a Catalan landscape reduced to its minimum elements, after inducing delirium by starvation.

Surrealist art was characterized by offering unusual and highly suggestive images. It exalted the imagination, dreams, irony, eroticism and the absurd.

To achieve “pure psychic automatism”, surrealist painting resorted to techniques like the exquisite corpse and decalcomania. He also created others of his own like the rubdown and the paranoid-critical method. All these techniques had the purpose of obtaining random textures or strokes that stimulate the subconscious, like when we play to see known shapes in the clouds.

In decalcomania, these images are obtained by folding a piece of paper with fresh ink in the center which, when opened, reveals an imprint. In the rubdownthe imprint results from rubbing a paper or canvas with pencils on a rough surface.

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The paranoiac-critical method, created by Dalí, consisted of contemplating real images until awakening phobias, fantasies and obsessions in the imagination.

The artists also took advantage of the Dadaist technique of ready made, object trouve or found object. It consisted of taking everyday objects out of their context and intervening in them looking for unexpected associations.


1. Exquisite corpse. 2. Decalcomania. 3. ready-made. Four. Frottage.

Among the most famous painters of surrealism we can name:

  • Rene Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967). Best known paintings: The son of man, This is not a pipe, The lovers.
  • Salvador Dali (Spain, 1904-1989): Best known paintings: The Persistence of Memory, The Temptations of Saint Anthony, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus.
  • Joan Miro (Spain, 1893-1983). Best known paintings: The Harlequin Carnival, Catalan Landscape, Dutch Interiorsyes
  • Max Ernst (Germany, 1891-1976). Best known paintings: Celebes, The Blessed Virgin punishing the Child Jesus in front of three witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and the Painter.

See also:

  • Dadaism.
  • Vanguard movements.

literary surrealism


André Breton: Poem-object.

Surrealism was originally a literary movement that sought to free itself from the domain of reason and the realist canon, reigning in the literature of the time.

Surrealist literature opted for a radical renewal of literary language and provided new composition techniques based on pure psychic automatism, such as the exquisite corpse.

In the literature, psychic automatism involves the association of seemingly unrelated words and ideas. By putting them in relation, the subconscious is activated through the imagination and the flow of spontaneous thought until it finds a meaning, whether conscious or unconscious.

As an example of a surrealist poem, we can cite Give me drowned jewelsby Andre Breton. Note how the poetic voice walks us through a set of images and ideas, based on apparently incongruous associations.

Give me drowned jewelry
two mangers
A ponytail and a dressmaker’s mania
then forgive me
I don’t have time to breathe
I am a destiny
Solar building has held me back so far
And now I just have to let myself die
Ask for the scale
At a trot with a clenched fist over my head that sounds
A beacon where a yellow gaze opens
The feeling also opens
But the princesses cling to the pure air
I need pride
And from some common drops
To warm the pot of musty flowers
at the bottom of the stairs
Divine thought in the starry crystal of the blue sky
The expression of the bathers is the death of the wolf
take me for a friend
The friend of bonfires and ferrets
look at you twice
read your sorrows
My rosewood oar makes your hair sing…

Likewise, the surrealist poets used visual resources to enhance the expressive capacity of language and challenge the limits between word and image. For example, poets created poems-objectsa composition that combines the written word with intervened objects.

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Poets such as the Count of Lautréamont or Arthur Rimbaud are recognized as precursors of surrealism, in whose work some of its characteristic elements are anticipated.

Some of the most prominent surrealist writers were:

  • Andre Breton (France, 1896-1966). Poet, theoretician and essayist. Outstanding works: Manifesto of surrealism, Nadja, Anthology of black humor Y the magical art.
  • louis aragon (France, 1897-1982). Poet and novelist. Outstanding works: Le Paysan of Paris; Treaty of the style; Aurelyen.
  • Philippe Souplault (France, 1897-1990). Writer and politician. Outstanding works: The last nights of Paris; The automatic message.
  • Paul Eluard (France, 1895-1952). Poet. Outstanding works: To die of not dying; Freedom or love; The capital of pain; Abridged dictionary of surrealism.
  • Benjamin Peret (France, 1899-1959). Poet. Outstanding works: Death to the Bastards and the Fields of Honor; The big game; The Disgrace of the Poets.