What is Surrealism and why is it important?

The imaginary is what tends to become real.

André Breton

People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings.

Salvador Dalí

Surrealism, then, neither aims to subvert realism, as does the fantastic, nor does it try to transcend it. It looks for different means by which to explore reality itself.

Michael Richardson, Dedalus Book of Surrealism 2: The Myth of the World

No one has uncertain feelings about Salvador Dali. When we talk about his work, viewers are either delighted either reject it, but in both cases, the viewer will be able to explain why had such a reaction. The purpose of surrealism is the accentuation of feelings, thoughts or feelings that are hard to express. To clarify this definition, we will take a few steps together in the history of surrealism. Probably the earliest initiator of surrealism was Hieronymus Bosch.

His works present fantastic creatures and landscapes. It could not be called 100% surrealism because the pieces had meanings, usually of a religious nature.

The garden of Earthly delights by Hieronymus Bosch (1515)
The garden of Earthly delights by Hieronymus Bosch (1515)

Giuseppe Arcimboldo brought art closer to authentic surrealism with his interesting portraits, which showed the human form consisting of fruits, vegetables and various animals.

"Summer" by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1572)
„Summer” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1572)

In the 1920s, Freud’s theories about the human unconscious were quite shocking, and artists became interested in inspecting their unknown interior areas. They hoped to provide some clues for humanity to open their mind.

The first use of the term „surrealism” came from the french poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who used the term to describe Jean Cocteau’s ballet parade, as well as his own piece, The Breasts of Tiresias. Followed by Andre Breton’s surrealist manifesto.

One of the most well-known figures is Salvador Dalí, who was interested in capturing the experience of the moment between waking and sleeping. To accomplish this, he sat on a chair with a key held over his hand, which in turn was positioned above a metal plate. As he fell asleep, the key was falling, waking him. In that state he was painting.

“Galatea of the Spheres” by Dalí (1952)
“Galatea of the Spheres” by Dalí (1952)

The Impact of Surrealism

Surrealism was a revolutionary movement that intended to shake things up on both individual and societal levels. While the loosely organized Surrealist movement might have faded away, artists have continued to use surreal art for revolutionary means ever since.

Today surrealism is important because it provides the opportunity to escape external structures to match into unconscious interiors and explore what’s hidden there.

It implies questions about the nature of accepted reality, and urges viewers to redefine themselves based on their own internal worlds.

So when you look at a Dalí or any other surreal painting and find yourself either delighted, skeptical, or experiencing any other emotion, ask yourself—what could be concealed in my subconscious that would make me react this way? Who am I, and why am I feeling like this? And what does this tell me about the way I relate to the outside world?

In the end, a surrealist work it’s all about you.

With all my heart,
~ Ioana Radulescu

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