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Surrealism

Surrealism is that avant-garde movement in art which sought to unleash the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Surrealism, similar to dreams, juxtaposed images that didn’t usually go together. The existential angst provoked by the meaningless destruction in the World Wars, the emphasis laid by Western society on rationalism, the acknowledgement of dream worlds and fantasies, contributed to this movement. In 1924, André Breton, French poet and pioneer of surrealism, arrived at the conclusion that one has to free oneself from the past and from everyday reality to arrive at truths one has never known. He published two manifestos (1924 and 1929) to explain this concept. As defined by André Breton, surrealism is: ‘Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally or in writing or otherwise, the actual functioning of thought. Dictation of the thought in the absence of any control exercised by reason, apart from any aesthetic or moral concern.’

     In a book Surrealism-desire unbound edited by Jennifer Mundy and published by Tate, the first chapter explains: ‘the word desire runs like a silver thread through the poetry and writings of the surrealist group in all its phases. Desire was seen as the authentic voice of the inner self. It was an expression of the sexual instinct, and, in sublimated form, the impulse behind love. It was also the path to self knowledge.’ Furthermore, Sigmund Freud’s writings influenced surrealist theory, and consequently Freud became known for his ideas. According to Freud, the unconscious mind governs the conscious mind, and to be a mentally stable individual, the conflict between the two should be resolved.

        The famous surrealist painter of all time, Salvador Dali said, ‘No desire is blameworthy; the only fault lies in repressing them.’ In The Great Masturbator (1929) he unabashedly painted a rather disturbing self-analytical portrait of his sexual obsessions. The Lovers (1928) by René Magritte employed a fabric to symbolise the separateness between lovers, implying a human tendency to cloak one’s true nature. The Song of Love (1914, a decade before the movement commenced) by Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, known for his metaphysical work is an early example of this genre. He used imagery based on classical architectural styles-Renaissance or Greek-and placed symbolic objects in their midst to bring a disconcerting quality to his paintings. In John Miró’s Dog Barking at the Moon (1926) the dark background alludes to a sense of isolation, although its frolicsome mood suggests otherwise.

    Be it Frida Kahlo’s Broken Column (1944) or Picasso’s Guernica (1937), surrealist paintings peer deep inside the artist’s mind, opening their works to interpretation and misinterpretation alike. It is as though the creators couldn’t care for public opinion or judgement. Most surreal art is unclear; the artists are not sharing a truth, but merely bearing open an authentic mystery. They brought the intangible to life and proved that reality isn’t necessarily that which exists on the outside.

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