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Surrealism, movement in literature and the fine arts, founded by the French poet and critic Andre Breton. Breton published his Surrealist Manifesto in Paris in 1924 and consistently dominated the movement. Surrealism grew directly out of the movement known as Dadaism (see DADA), an art and literary movement reflecting nihilistic protest against all aspects of Western culture. Like Dadaism, surrealism emphasized the role of the unconscious in creative activity, but it employed the psychic unconscious in a more orderly and more serious manner.

Surrealist Literature

The surrealists claimed as their literary forebears a long line of writers, outstanding among whom is the Comte de Lautréamont, author of the lengthy and complicated work Les chants de Maldoror (1868-1870). Besides Breton, many of the most distinguished French writers of the early 20th century were at one time connected with the movement; these include Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, René Crevel, and Philippe Soupault. Younger writers such as Raymond Queneau were also influenced by its points of view. Pure surrealist writers used automatism as a literary form—that is, they wrote whatever words came into their conscious mind and regarded these words as inviolable. They did not alter what they wrote, as that would constitute an interference with the pure act of creation. The authors felt that this free flow of thought would establish a rapport with the subconscious mind of their readers. A typical short example of surrealist writing is the proverb by Paul Éluard that states “Elephants are contagious.” This purely psychic automatism was modified later by the conscious use, especially in painting, of symbols derived from Freudian psychology. Like their forerunners, the Dadaists, the surrealists broke accepted rules of work and personal conduct in order to liberate their sense of inner truth. The movement spread all over the world and flourished in America during World War II (1939-1945), when André Breton was living in New York City.

Surrealism in Art

In painting and sculpture surrealism is one of the leading influences of the 20th century. It claimed as its ancestors in the graphic arts such painters as the Italian Paolo Uccello, the British poet and artist William Blake, and the Frenchman Odilon Redon. In this century it also admired, and included in its exhibitions, works by the Italian Giorgio de Chirico, the Russian Marc Chagall, the Swiss Paul Klee, the French artists Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, and the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, none of whom was ever a member of the surrealist group. From 1924 the German Max Ernst, the Frenchman Jean Arp, and the American painter and photographer Man Ray were among its members. They were joined for a short time about 1925 by the Frenchman André Masson and the Spaniard Joan Miro, who remained members for some time but were too individualistic as painters to submit to the strong leadership of André Breton, who exercised final authority over the movement. Later members of the group included the French-American Yves Tanguy, the Belgian Rene Magritte, and the Swiss Alberto Giacometti. The Catalan painter Salvador Dali joined the surrealist movement in 1930 but was later denounced by most surrealists because he was held to be more interested in commercializing his art than in surrealist ideas. Although for a time he was the most talked-about member of the group, his work is so idiosyncratic as to be only partially typical of surrealism.

Surrealist painting exhibits great variety of content and technique. That of Dalí, for example, consists of more or less a direct and photographic transcription of dreams, deriving its inspiration from the earlier dreamlike paintings of de Chirico. Arp's sculptures are large, smooth, abstract forms, and Miró, a formal member of the group for a short time only, employed, as a rule, fantastic shapes, which included deliberate adaptations of children's art and which also had something in common with the designs used by the native Catalan artists to decorate pottery. The Russian-American painter Pavel Tchelichew, while not a member of the surrealists, created surrealist images in his paintings as well as in his numerous ballet designs. An American offshoot of the surrealist movement is the group of artists known as the magic realists, under the leadership of the painter Paul Cadmus. The group also includes George Tooker, Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, Philip Evergood, Peter Blume, and Louis Guglielmi. The assemblage sculptor Joseph Cornell began as an acknowledged surrealist, but later pursued his highly individual art. The surrealists' attitude toward free creation was a major influence on the beginnings of abstract expressionism in New York City. A representative collection of the graphic works of the surrealists is in the Museum of Modern Art and of the magic realists in the Whitney Museum of American Art, both in New York City.

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