Imagine a world where our subconscious thoughts and feelings come alive and are as real as the concrete objects we can identify using our senses. Imagine a world made up of dreams where logic and reason play no role and where our minds can freely explore its darkest, most obscure corners, independent of any apprehension caused by guilt and shame. No, this is not the kind of world John Lennon and the Beatles sang about, but one that dates decades even before the band’s existence. This is the kind of world the Surrealists boldly depicted in their work.
Surrealism developed out of the Dada activities during World War I. The artists of the Dada movement had become disillusioned by art, art history and history in general. Many of them were veterans of World War I and had grown cynical of humanity after seeing what men were capable of doing to each other on the battlefields of Europe. Because of this, they created art that was nihilistic in nature. Their goal was to evoke feelings of disgust, shock and outrage from the viewer – emotions that matched how they themselves felt towards the modern world. Abstraction and Expressionism were the main influences on Dada, followed by Cubism and, to a lesser extent, Futurism.
A number of artists, writers and intellectuals – notably of French and German nationalities – found themselves congregating in the refuge that Zurich (in neutral Switzerland) offered. They considered the modern world to be meaningless and futile given their conclusion that all previous forms of knowledge and art eventually resulted to the barbarism, greed and ruthless capitalism that fueled the war. The most basic idea that propelled Surrealism is that reason and logic, as it formed the foundation of cultural and intellectual conformity, also became the root causes of war. The idea spread amongst writers, artists, politicians and other key figures who has a platform to influence society’s disposition.
The movement primarily involved visual arts, literature—poetry, art manifestoes, art theory—theatre, and graphic design, and concentrated its anti-war politics through a rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works. In 1924, André Breton, founder of the Surrealism, published “The Surrealist Manifesto” wherein he posited that Surrealism was a means of reuniting the conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely, that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in “an absolute reality, a surreality.”
Breton’s efforts continued to escalate and gain momentum as he wrote, published and distributed books, articles and other visual materials that would bring together artists, thinkers and researchers in a united hunt for a sense of expression of the unconscious. Together, they researched and delivered to the public the definition of a fresh aesthetic, a new humankind and an unconstrained social order. The movement was organized and purposeful. They would hold regular meetings in cafés where the Surrealists played collaborative drawing games, discussed the theories of Surrealism, and developed a variety of techniques such as automatic drawing.
Surrealism as a visual movement had found a method: to expose psychological truth by stripping ordinary objects of their normal significance, in order to create a compelling image that was beyond ordinary formal organization, in order to evoke empathy from the viewer. As Breton succinctly says, “I resist with all my strength temptations which, in painting and literature, might have the immediate tendency to withdraw thought from life as well as place life under the aegis of thought.”
Many significant literary movements in the latter half of the 20th century were directly or indirectly influenced by Surrealism. This period is known as the Postmodern era. Though there’s no widely agreed upon central definition of Postmodernism, many themes and techniques commonly identified as Postmodern are nearly identical to Surrealism.
This month at Baterbys, Step into the vivid and brilliant imaginations of the Surrealists where multiple worlds exist in one alternate and subconscious reality. Explore what the unconscious hides beneath life’s veneer. Exhibiting this month at only Baterbys Orlando. Reception and lecture night on July 29, Friday @6pm. RSVP at Baterbys.com