what is surrealism? Get to know the art inspired by dreams

do you have any idea how important surrealism is in the history of art? This artistic current is one of the most interesting and attractive that exist, and not only in painting, but in an infinite number of other artistic manifestations.

Many years ago a group of artists decided to capture fragments of the subconscious in their works to form what is surrealism.

It is possible that the artistic current of surrealism has been one of the most controversial in its beginnings, since its main exponents sought to escape from all moral and aesthetic rules to create a unique concept.

But where did all these ideas of capturing the hidden in plain sight come from? Who created surrealism? If you want to know the answers to these questions (and much more), keep reading our article. You’ll find out all about surrealism, and we’ll even tell you who some of the main artists of surrealism were.

Definition of surrealism

Before knowing in detail the expressions of what is one of the main artistic currents in the world, we must focus on defining the concept of surrealism.

Surrealism was a very popular artistic movement between 1924 and 1940, and was characterized by a vision of art in which the nature of humanity was considered to be essentially irrational. For this reason, it is linked to psychoanalysis, since in surrealist artworks the most important thing was the connection with the unconscious and with the depths of the mind.

In a first approach with surrealist art people usually do not understand the meaning of the work, but this is part of the experience, since it is assumed that in surrealism everything is connected with the subjectivity of the one who makes the work, and precisely for this reason it is difficult for a person to understand what is in the mind of the artist.

In this simple way we can define what surrealism is, however, the concept may vary according to the authors. But something that must be taken into account when talking about surrealist art is the link it has with psychoanalysis.

André Breton was the one who initiated the artistic movement of surrealism and was inspired by Sigmund Freud’s knowledge togive it shape.

Pintura moderna y surrealista

Source: Unsplash

For this French poet, who elaborated the Manifesto of Surrealism, what surrealist art represents escapes “any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern”.

Therefore, surrealist art allows artists to give free rein to their creativity and not be limited by what is traditionally established in the arts.

The definition of surrealism according to the RAE tells us that it is an artistic and literary movement that tries to overcome reality by pushing the irrational. All this, through the automatic expression of thought.

This movement, being a subjective art, varies greatly from artist to artist. Therefore, it is not easy to understand what surrealism is and to have an exact definition of the work of a single artist, because the interpretations of surrealism are many, and the work of one artist to another can vary greatly.

History of surrealism

Let’s go back in time and go to Paris in 1917, where the history of surrealism begins in the hands of the artist Guillaume Apollinaire, who is responsible for creating the term “surrealist” or “surrealism” to define one of his works.

For Apollinaire, the concept that defines what surrealist art is , must be linked to subjectivity, and to the particular way people have of seeing reality.

Years later, in 1924, André Breton, a well-known French artist, recovered the word introduced by Apollinaire to give it form and support, and in doing so, this famous poet and writer became the leader of the movement that is surrealism.

It is this French artist who discovers the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and is greatly influenced by them to shape the concept of surrealism. It is said that Breton sought to understand man from a different point of view.

If we focus on chronology, and try to look for a precise origin of what surrealism is, we have to say then that this artistic current was born after the First World War. The emergence of surrealist art after a war is not a coincidence, on the contrary, it is the response to a historical moment in which humanity needed new ways of seeing and understanding things.

Although in its beginnings, surrealist art was based purely on literary expressions, as it was promoted by a poet, the concept of surrealist art expanded and began to take shape through the visual arts, photography and cinema.

Ejemplo de pintura surrealista

Source: Traveler

Characteristics of surrealist art

Now that you have an idea of what surrealism is, the best thing you can do to understand this type of art, is to know some of its main characteristics.

To begin with, we can say that those who dedicated themselves to surrealist art had some things in common, such as the valuation of automatism at the moment of capturing their ideas in reality, because the idea was precisely to compose works without the control of reason mediating the results.

We have already seen in the definition of surrealism, that artists sought to connect with their unconscious, without questioning whether what they were doing made sense or responded to the aesthetic norms of art at that time.

Pintura surrealista de Salvador Dalí

Source: EQultura

Inspired by Freud, André Breton gave much weight to the subconscious and the way it manifested itself in each person; therefore, as stated by the French poet, the manifestations of surrealism sought to express thoughts in an automatic way.

To achieve this, many artists who identified with surrealist art resorted to experimental methods to create works driven purely by the subconscious. resorted to experimental methods to create works driven purely by the subconscious. Many of them worked under hypnosis or in a trance state.

In surrealist art, the important thing was to avoid normal or conscious creative expressions. It is said that the surrealists relied more on the subconscious as an authentic and powerful source of creation.

Usually, the followers of the movement seemed to achieve greater spontaneity in their works by excluding logic in their composition. As stated by André Breton, surrealist art was motivated by impulses and fantasy.

In order to synthesize the characteristics that define surrealism, let us point out some of its most outstanding aspects:

In surrealist art some forms of representational art and abstract art converge.
Surrealism highlights fantastic elements in its works to question reality.
Surrealist art is loaded with symbolism, and much of the art of surrealism is linked to the artist’s dreams.
In this type of art, there is a break with tradition and, in the era in which it developed, with morality. That is why it is common to see scenes in which sexuality or other taboo subjects are the main thing.
Surrealism is an expression of criticism of the period that came after the end of the First World War, so its content is also often politically and socially charged.

Techniques of surrealism

After understanding what surrealist art is and what are its characteristics, it is time for you to know what were the techniques most used by surrealist art.

To boost creativity and adequately represent surrealist art, artists created works and used techniques that defied logic.


Representatives of surrealist art created this technique that consisted of randomly passing a pencil over a textured surface to create new forms. This surface served as a base to create a new work.


Decalcomania consisted of throwing ink on a surface and folding it in half.

When the surface was opened, the resulting ink pattern served to stimulate the artist’s subconscious and allowed him to create works with more creative results.

Exquisite corpse

The exquisite corpse is a technique that was used primarily in the composition of poems, although it was also used to make drawings. The idea was to create surrealist art in a cooperative way, for example, a poet could write an initial phrase for others to contribute another phrase to complete the poem.

In this technique the important thing was to flow and write spontaneously, precisely this spontaneity is what relates this type of poetry with surrealist art.

Dibujo con técnica surrealista

Source: 3 minutes of art

With the exquisite corpse, the work was passed one by one and each artist added what he thought best: a drawing or new word to complete the creation. The objective was also to find inspiration or new ideas for his future compositions.

Manifestations of surrealism

Although during its early years, surrealist art mainly encompassed poetry, over the years it gained popularity and manifested itself in various forms such as visual arts, photography and cinema.

In fact, if you ask someone what surrealism is, they probably think of Salvador Dalí’s paintings or Luis Buñuel’s films. Although poetry was one of the main formats of surrealist art, painting and film were what led surrealism to be such a popular movement.

Read on to learn about the main manifestations of surrealist art.

Surrealism in literature

We start from where it all began to define what surrealism in literature is. Through what was established by its leader, André Breton, poets and writers sought to include in their works themes that combined reality with the “unbelievable”.

The followers of surrealist art in poetry, included in their compositions elements that they observed in dreams and used many metaphors to impact the reader’s mind.

Here is an excerpt from the poem “World in a Kiss” by the leader of the surrealist movement André Breton.

“The musician with hazel sticks sewn into his sleeves

Appeases a swarm of young lion-monkeys

Who descended with great clatter from the ledge

Everything becomes opaque as I watch the chariot of the night pass by.”

Surrealism in the plastic arts

On the other hand, surrealist art in the plastic arts served to better express the concept of this movement.

Two currents of this movement can be recognized in the plastic arts:

1.Juxtaposition and distortion of known images: who stands out in this surrealist current is Salvador Dalí with works such as “The Persistence of Memory”. Take a look at it below:

Pintura famosa de Salvador Dalí

Source: History Art
2.Objects without any rational control: the main driver of this trend was the German Max Ernst, with paintings like “Europe after the rain II” that you can see below:

Pintura surrealista de Max Ernst

Source: WahooArt

Surrealism in photography

Surrealist art in photography is materialized through images that gather props to add that “magic” and irrationality that characterizes the movement.

In addition, they are usually retouched and show portraits that are difficult to see in everyday life.

Below, we share with you one of the works of the French photographer Man Ray titled: “Les Larmes”, in English: “the tears”. This image can serve you as a reference to know what a surrealist photo is:

Ejemplo de fotografía surrealista

Source: Art History.

Surrealism in cinema

Finally, another art form that was impacted by this movement was cinema. In the Paris of the 1920s, surrealist art in cinema was characterized by incorporating juxtapositions of images to make an impact on the audience.

It was common to depict irrational and absurd figures in surrealist films. The main themes of surrealist cinema include:

Criticism of traditions, religion and the family.
Representations of longing, love and sexual desire.
Scenarios representing dreamlike states.

Some representative film works of surrealism were:

An Andalusian Dog (1929) and The Golden Age (1930) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.
The Blood of a Poet (1932) by Jean Cocteau.
The Mysteries of the Dice Castle (1929) by Man Ray.

Pintura surrealista de Magritte

Source: renemagritte.org

Main representatives of surrealism

There is no way to understand what surrealism is without knowing some of its main exponents, especially because from their work we have a concrete example of how the principles of surrealist art were applied in reality.

Because of the importance of surrealism in painting, we made a small selection of the artists who stood out the most in surrealist art. It is possible that you already know the work of many of them, since their works were so impressive that they were marked in the history of art.

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí is the best known artist of surrealism, in fact, you probably know at least a couple of his works. His fame reached a global reach, both for the creativity of his works, as well as for his lifestyle, which some would also categorize as surrealism.

Some of his artworks were developed following the essential principles of surrealism, so you can find many photographs of Dalí painting from bed or from a bathtub, where he used to receive his dreamlike visions.

Alberto Giacometti

Alberto Giacometti’s work, to a person who doesn’t know about art, might seem like the result of a child’s experiments using paint. However, most of his work refers to his traumas and obsessions.

As we explained before, when we talked about what surrealism is, this type of art seeks to delve into the artist’s unconscious to bring out some of the deepest things in his mind, and there is no one who did this better than Giacometti.

Pablo Picasso

When you look up what surrealism is in an art book, one of the names that stands out the most, along with Salvador Dalí, is that of Pablo Picasso. Just note that Picasso’s cubism work does not fall under the category of surrealism.

Picasso’s surrealist art works were published in La Révolution surréaliste, and were essentially poetry. In other of his works the influence of surrealism is also noticeable, although with a style of his own.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo’s work is also loaded with surrealism, and her work reflects her personal experiences, especially traumatic periods. Although this artist stated on a couple of occasions that her work was not surrealism, the characteristics of her paintings coincide with surrealist art.

In Frida Kahlo’s works one can see a component of psychoanalysis, especially because her self-portraits abound with references to the pain she felt because of certain experiences in her life.

Arte surrealista de Frida Kahlo

Source: Art Feed

Now you know what surrealism is in all its forms. This current of art leads us to question reality periodically and reminds us that our mind is a spectacular world that we often don’t pay attention to.

are you ready to take some ideas from surrealist art and incorporate them into your next creations? We assure you that the results will be out of this world and everyone will be impressed. cheer up!

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