SURREALISM & SURREAL, the art movement described in definitions, meaning & Surrealist Manifesto
text quotes, selected from the Manifesto of Andre Breton: about the artists Dali, Miro, Ernst & Arp
Surrealism – the French art movement with the idea of ‘Surreal’, (Breton) & the Surrealist artists, painters quotes, definitions, meaning, history facts and characteristics from the Manifesto. The modern art movement started in France in the mid 1920s. Jacob Bendien defines Surrealism as the follow up to Dadaism / Dada, but with more serious and rational characteristics, making use of the subconscious and coincidence. Famous surrealist artists are André Breton, Salvador Dali, Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Masson, Hans Arp, Delvaux and Joan Miro (ed.).
The selected art quotes are produced by the Dutch artist / art critic Jacob Bendien (1890 – 1933); they are taken from his artbook “Trends in the Present Day Art of Painting”, published by W.L & J. Brusse N.V. – Rotterdam 1936, after his death; – the editor.
‘Triumph of Surrealism’, Max Ernst 1937
SURREALISM & the SURREAL: meaning, definitions, history facts, & style characteristics
- The Surrealist artists like bravery and strength, but both without pathos; love, preferably in the most earthly meaning of the word; intelligence without slickness, strict rebelliousness, despising all social prosperity and security for themselves. They believe that no new life can come about without violence.
- For Surrealists, the highest value is freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression. This is the only possible freedom for us. Not in order to produce subtleties… The Surrealist aspires to free expression void of all subtleties, gained by freedom of thought.
- In practice, there are as many different surrealistic works as there are Surrealists, although they all have one thing in common: the irrational and uninhibited manner of their expression.
- Max Ernst used mainly cuttings of old woodprints (frottages ed.) and other prints Dali, Magritte, etc. paint clear representations. Miró and Tanguy painted mainly abstracts, Hans Arp more or less abstract, Man Ray is really a photographer, and with Picabia and Magritte the written word is an important part of the painting. Some Surrealists use only objective means, such as the makers of collages or, like Hans Arp, who sometimes had his work made by others.
- Surrealism continued important Dadaism / Dada tendencies; against petty bourgeois culture, lyricism and harmony and for the mystical relationship between objects.
- Like the Dada artist, the Surrealist lets things speak for themselves. Both movements leave space for coincidence, oppose flattery and want a sense of reality. We could say that Surrealism is an adult form of Dada.
- Many Surrealists like to bring together objects, which so typify a certain environment that we can imagine a whole world. For instance stage decors that suggest theatre life, gladiators who remind us of the Roman arenas etc. Particularly an unusual combination of different environments or cultural periods can sometimes produce a striking sensation.
- For example, similar combinations are called forth by a bed on a market, décor pieces on a beach, modern technical instruments in the middle of ruins, to mention but a few of the scenes actually painted.
- These combinations, also often appearing in our dreams, are not concocted. They develop on their own in the subconscious. It is our sense of the strangeness, the direct feeling of wonder that keeps these realities together, and the tension of the wonder that maintains them.
- Just like Futurism, the Surrealist wants to push life to a greater tension/ to further extremes. He does not even object to the nastiest pornographic reading material. Everything that raises the activity of our fantasy is greedily accepted. He seeks the wondrous in everything.
- What we really need according to the Surrealist, is not only the political revolution, but an all-encompassing revolution of the spirit, that dares to break away from all acceptable morality and humanity in order to start again. But not by throwing all culture overboard like the expressionists. The Surrealists did not condemn cultural life and intellect in general, but specifically the bourgeois culture and intellect.
- They greedily accepted the weapons to destroy it, weapons delivered by the bourgeois culture itself. These weapons, especially historical materialism and psychoanalysis (Freud, fh) are fiercely used by Surrealists.
- According to them Marx showed the motivation of social life and Freud that of spiritual life, and both were extremely popular with Surrealists.
- One of the most important ways to gain contact with our subconscious is by concentrating our attention on our dreams. Some training and practice are necessary and consist mainly of keeping our intellect in check in an intelligent and appropriate manner.
- The Surrealist does not oppose intellect itself, unlike many other artists (particularly the Expressionists in Bendien’s opinion ed.), but he opposes intellect when it is used to channel the enormously rich and dangerous life as it wells up in our subconscious, into neat bourgeois tracks.
- The Surrealist wants to make the expressive possibilities of the subconscious as broad as possible. The more difficult it becomes for our decorum to accept the life thus expressed, the better he likes it. And, it is true that this life called the Surreal by the Surrealists, is very often impossible for our consciousness to accept.
- The subconscious has its own strong lyric, which can sometimes be offensive to the ordinary art feeling. It often lacks flow, is crude, eccentric (73). But the lyric of Verlaine for instance, acts as a sort of sleeping pill for the Surrealist.
- For the Surrealist, rhythm is only another piece of ‘dressure’ art, imposed on our subconscious by intellect. Particularly when it is used like a treadmill it causes him great irritation. Harmony, also detested by Dadaism / Dada artists, means little more to the Surrealist than senility.
- Even so, the Surrealists do not tend to use the sober, ready made objects used by Dada artists. Surrealists are no less eccentric, generally speaking they are more ecstatic and dreamier. But in a way the environment is ready made, and this makes the choice smaller, which, in turn means that the Surrealistic environment relies heavily on coincidence.
- The Surrealistic line often shows the same lack of fear for coincidence. It often meanders across the canvas like a nomad who has no idea, and wants no idea of where he is going. The looseness of the line has often influenced other art movements; even Cubists like Georges Braque succumbed to its beauty.
- These lines do not allow themselves to be dictated by logic. The line round a teapot does not stop for a cup standing next to it, but continues if necessary without hesitation, straight through the contour of the cup.
- Previously, the Cubists had painted different objects through one another, but where the lines met, one or other would be interrupted. Surrealists generally feel this to be unnecessary. It also detracts from the line the character of dreamily meandering and only being led by coincidence.
- Coincidence takes precedence over formal purity for the Surrealist. He accepts anything that can free us from the tyranny of a misuse of logic, in order to make way for a great new Surreal, which will arise of its own accord from the subconscious.
- A Surrealistic game is based purely on the working of coincidence. It goes like this: someone writes a hypothetical sentence that begins with the word ‘if’ or ‘when’. The next person then adds a qualifying sentence without knowing the hypotheses. For instance: ‘ When Poincaré dies I will bathe in the sea and be a swallow’.
- By taking all sorts of fragments from old woodprints, Max Ernst makes use of the eccentricity of coincidence. Generally these woodprints would be literary in origin. But, by mixing the stories, breaking them off suddenly and continuing them in the most unexpected way, he gives the literary tension an extra boost.
- Before Surrealism had consolidated itself into a life style, there were various artists who worked more or less surrealistically, even though it was not yet so called. Amongst them Picasso and De Chirico are the most famous.
- The individualist Picasso, even now (after 1930) wants nothing to do with a Surrealistic life style. Just as he had little faith in a general dogmatic cubistic system of painting, even though he is himself one of the founders of Cubism. He has more confidence – rightly – in his own insight and intuition.
- Not only Picasso, but other Surrealistic artists like De Chirico, and Lurcat go their own way and take no part in the tempestuous surrealistic actions in other areas than painting. The stricter Max Ernst, Magritte, Tanguy and Hans Arp joined in the activities.
- Lately, (after 1930) there are more combinations of Surrealism with Cubism which even include elements of Expressionism or Impressionism, Which, because of its quick spontaneity, easily fits in with Surrealism. A number of modern painters, such as Masson, work in this way.
- The subtle Expressionist, Paul Klee, is often included with the Surrealists. A few Surrealists can be included with the Expressionists, such as Masson and Bores.
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taken and translated from art critic Jacob Bendien
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