Characteristics of surrealism definition Outstanding works artists

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Avant-garde movement that emerged in France in 1924. In this article we will provide you the characteristics of surrealism.

Surrealism is an avant – garde movement that emerged in France in 1924 and expanded during the 1930s, until the beginning of World War II .

Like other avant-garde movements of the 20th century , the starting point of surrealism was the nonconformity of artists and intellectuals with the society in which they lived.

However, unlike other movements, surrealism tried to put aside the protest to focus on a type of artistic and literary production that would contribute to the change of the world .

Its main theorist was the writer André Breton , who in 1924 wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, where he established the searches and objectives of the proposal.

From the influence of the studies of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, Breton proposed surrealism as a revolutionary movement that allowed people to conquer their individual freedom and, through it, achieve social freedom . In fact, many of the artists who made up Surrealism joined the Communist Party and supported the revolutionary struggles.

The surrealists tried to solve, through art, the fracture that they noticed in the individual and collective life of people. They understood that art and society, the outer world and the inner world, fantasy and reality, dream and wakefulness, were dissociated and that it was necessary to integrate these instances to change the world.

They affirmed that, while in conscious reality thought is conditioned by reason, morals and customs; in unconsciousness it manifests freely.

Although the surrealist movement dissolved towards the end of the 1930s , its plastic forms in painting have been very influential, even to the present day.

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Characteristics of surrealism

The main characteristics of this avant-garde movement were the following:

  • He intended to contribute from art to the revolutions that had occurred in different countries. He tried to change the world by liberating individuals and societies .
  • The immediate antecedent of surrealism is Dadaism , which proposed the irrationality of actions as a way of opposing bourgeois society.
  • He considered unconscious activity to be as important as conscious activity. Therefore, what happened during sleep was as concrete as what happened during wakefulness.
  • They looked for visual or narrative strategies to release and capture those unconscious forces that manifested during sleep or in states of unconsciousness.
  • They used a technique called “psychic automatism” which consisted in letting written language flow without allowing interference from reason.
  • In plastic arts, they used the superposition of found objects and the free associations of images through different techniques, such as photomontage and collages. They also created images that represented dreamlike and fantasy worlds .

Outstanding works of surrealism

Some of the best known works of surrealism are within the painting, the cinema and literature.

plastic arts

In plastic arts, the outstanding works of surrealism are the following:

  • Salvador Dalí , The Metamorphosis of Narcissus , 1937, oil on canvas, 51.2 × 78.1 cm, Tate Modern, London.
  • Max Ernst , L’Évadé (The Fugitive) , 1926, frottage on paper, 32.3 × 49.8 cm, Moma, New York.
  • Magritte, René , La Trahison des images ( The Treachery of Images ), 1928-1929, oil on canvas, 60.33 x 81.12 cm Art Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles.

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Movie theater

In cinema, the outstanding works of surrealism are the following:

  • Luis Buñuel (producer and director), Un chien andalou ( An Andalusian dog) , France, 1929.
  • André Charlot (producer), Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy (directors), Ballet mécanique ( Mechanical ballet ), France, 1924.


In literature, the main surrealist work is:

  • André Breton and Philippe Soupault , Les Champs magnétiques ( Magnetic fields ), 1920.

Surrealism artists

Some of the outstanding artists of this movement have been the following:

  • Louis Aragon (1897-1982) : French writer, one of the initiators of the surrealist movement.
  • André Breton (1896-1966) : French writer, one of the main theorists and promoters of Surrealism.
  • Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) : Spanish film director, who began his career within surrealism.
  • Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) : Spanish artist who was a painter, sculptor, screenwriter, and performance artist. He transformed his life into an artistic object. Although he was expelled from the surrealist movement, he is considered one of its greatest exponents.
  • René Magritte (1898-1967) : Belgian painter, known for his provocative works of art.
  • Max Ernst (1891-1976) : German painter, who developed various novel techniques such as frottage , decalcoming and grattage. 
  • Joan Miró (1893-1983) : Spanish painter, considered by Breton as the most surrealist of all.

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