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Woman and Bird (Barcelona 1982) by Joan Miró

Surrealism describes a spiritual movement that has been expressing itself since the 1920s as an attitude to life and an art of living contrary to traditional norms. It finds expression to the present day both philosophically and in the media, literature , art and film. In contrast to the satirical approach of Dada , mainly psychoanalytically founded theories are processed against the prevailing views . Dreamlike, unconscious , absurd and fantasticare therefore characteristics of literary, pictorial and cinematic means of expression. In this way new experiences should be made and new knowledge gained.


The word "surrealism" literally means "above realism ". Something that is called surreal looks dreamlike in the sense of unreal . The surrealist movement, led by the French writer and critic André Breton in Paris since 1921, looked for human reality in the unconscious and used intoxication and dream experiences as a source of artistic inspiration. She strove to expand consciousness and reality globally and overturn all valid values. Logical-rational “bourgeois” conceptions of art were radically and provocatively rejected. Surrealism is therefore called an anarchist or revolutionary conception of art and the world.

The term “surrealism” goes back to Guillaume Apollinaire . In keeping with the basic idea of ​​movement, Apollinaire invented this name. In the introduction to his play Les mamelles de Tirésias ( The Breasts of Tiresias ), he wanted to use this unknown and therefore symbolically unencumbered word to name a tendency in current literary and artistic activities . It is subtitled "a surrealist drama". It premiered in June 1917 and was later used by Francis Poulenc as the basis for his opera of the same name . In May of the same year, Apollinaire had already mentioned the term in the program for the Ballet Parade . In 1924, Breton adopted the word surrealism as the name for the movement that was already there.

Surrealism can be divided into two subspecies:

  1. Veristic or critical-paranoid surrealism (unification of things that do not belong together, twisted perspectives, as we know them e.g. from Salvador Dalí ), picture example dream, caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate, one second before waking up (1944) .
  2. Abstract or absolute surrealism (the same principle as mentioned above, but without any realism), e.g. B. in pictures by Joan Miró , picture example Carnival of the Harlequin (1924/25).


Starting with the Dadaist movement in Paris, surrealism was also a revolutionary movement that stood up against the unbelievable values ​​of the bourgeoisie . In contrast to satirical Dadaism, a new way of seeing things was propagated in surrealism. The artistic means of expression were influenced by symbolism , expressionism , futurism , the writings of Lautréamont , Arthur Rimbaud , Alfred Jarry and the theories of Sigmund Freud .

The founding members of the surrealist movement came from the generation before the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Thought, literature, art and music had already abandoned traditions in many places and new means of expression developed. The metaphysical painting of the Italian Giorgio de Chirico impressed thinking, poetic and painting artists who later found themselves in the ranks of the surrealists. What he sees is important to him, he wrote; most important is what he sees with his eyes closed. It was probably this connection between what is imagined and what is perceived by the senses in his pictures that fascinated surrealists.

Another influence on the emergence of the surrealist movement came from the Dada. The experiences of the First World War reinforced this movement. The time before the war was experienced by the young surrealists, who at the time still called themselves supranaturalists , as carefree and free. In Paris, international groups had formed and were in conversation with one another. The war interrupted it. The experiences of this war with tens of thousands of deaths and the breakdown in social stability had a traumatic effect and prompted comments. War returnees founded magazines such as SIC , Nord-Sud and Dada , which gave the Dadaist movement a voice again that did not want to join the choir of war hero worship.

A few years later there was a break with the Dada . In 1922 Bréton founded the Congrès de Paris to provide a direction for the various forms of modern art. The congress, with parliamentary statutes, should take place under police protection. Breton said

"That Dadaism cannot have served any other purpose than to keep us in the perfect state of availability in which we are present and from which we will now approach with all clarity what calls us."

For Tristan Tzara , the leader of the Dada , Breton's actions represented an affront, which is why he declined the invitation to the congress "with all kindness". Breton, in turn, took Tzara publicly and called him "a swindler who had nothing to do with the invention of Dada ."

On a July night in 1923, there was a brawl at the Théâtre Michel in Paris when Tristan Tzara's play Le Cœur à Gaz was about to be performed. Tzara's former friends Louis Aragon , Benjamin Péret and Breton stormed the stage and attacked the cast.

The end of the First World War can be regarded as the point in time when the movement emerged in France, which influenced socio-political thinking and literature under the name Surrealism from 1924 . As a French movement in politics , art and literature, it is limited to the period between the two world wars. On the other hand, as a spiritual movement, it belongs to European intellectual history . It contains views that have already existed in the past - e. B. in romance - appeared. It was always about alternatives to traditional views. In the meantime, surrealist attitudes have spread around the world.

Littérature n ° 1, March 1919

André Breton was closely linked to the emergence of the surrealist movement in France. In the early days, surrealism showed itself as a philosophical-literary movement. André Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault edited the magazine Littérature . Surrealist ideas were published and discussed here. The number of contributions increased sharply between 1922 and 1924. Breton increasingly appeared as a spokesman. Creativity, he propagated, depends on whether it is possible to free oneself from the burdens of the past and from realistic structures. The imagination should be the exclusive inspiration. Control by reason is superfluous. This framework allowed Dadaists and Surrealists to join him. In connection with political developments - such as the revolutionary changes in Russia , the founding of the PCF, and the emergence of fascism - Breton decided in the late 1920s that Surrealists should get involved in politics. This confrontation had its climax in 1930 with Breton's “Second Surrealist Manifesto”, in which he wanted to work towards a clear statement by the artists against the spreading fascism in Europe. Breton renounced all who did not share his revolutionary view and treated them as opponents. From now on the surrealist movement was divided into the group of revolutionaries and the group of those who had helped invent surrealist means of expression for years.

Philosophical prerequisites for surreal ideas

One of Breton's fundamental thoughts, shared by his followers, was the view that there is no objectively given external reality. As a result, language cannot represent the world objectively, as was traditionally believed. The symbolism of the dominant language enables neither new experiences nor new knowledge . Surrealist writers should therefore invent a new language

"... in order to be able to establish a new way of thinking, a new world relationship and ultimately even a new world on it."

Sociopolitical changes are not possible without a new language. The liberation of "words" and an aesthetic of "bold metaphor" were therefore demanded. The perception needs to change if new to be discovered or invented. Above all, it must be free of prejudice and spontaneous. In his book on Surrealism, Gaétan Picon quotes from The Lost Steps: Appearance of the Media by Breton, the following description of a changed perception: [5]

"In 1919 my attention was focused on the more or less incomplete sentences which the mind can perceive in complete loneliness and approaching sleep, without it being possible to discover a previous purpose in them."

Max Ernst wrote in his publication Beyond Painting in 1936:

“On a rainy day in 1919, in a town on the Rhine, I noticed the obsession with which my irritated eye was attached to the pages of a picture catalog in which objects for anthropological, microscopic, psychological, mineralogical and paleontological illustration were depicted. There were pictorial elements next to each other that were so foreign to each other that the futility of this juxtaposition caused a sudden intensification of the visionary powers in me, and a hallucinating sequence of contradicting [...] images was awakened [...]. "

According to André Breton, the goal of wanting to create something beautiful hinders the psychological automatism of writing down the flow of thoughts. Similar to aesthetic considerations, moral or logical objections (like any intervening of the will in general) act as acts of internal censorship that prevents the disclosure of hidden secrets.

The surrealist group

André Breton, 1924

Breton published his first Manifeste du Surréalisme in Paris in 1924 and subsequently dominated the movement. The manifesto remained authoritative for the duration of the movement; only minor changes were made in the so-called “second surrealist manifesto” of 1929. Littérature magazine was discontinued to make way for La Révolution surréaliste , the forum of the new movement. An “office for surrealist research” at 15 rue de Grenelle rounded off the institutionalization.

The surrealists' pictures often have a dreamlike and abstract effect. A much-discussed subject in Surrealist painting is, for example, The Temptation of Saint Anthony , supported by the Bel Ami competition of 1946, in which many well-known artists of the time, such as Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí and many others took part. Ernst was awarded the first prize.

Preferred working methods were: Switching off consciousness through dreams, sleep or intoxicants and letting the unconscious come to expression in an automatic, uncontrolled creation process as well as an overly precise painting style, alienation or combination of impossible things and states that exceed reality.

The procedure with which writing and drawing was experimented with was automatic writing (Écriture automatique) , which was supposed to be spontaneous and without restrictions of consciousness. In intentional trance and in dream protocols, fears and desires should become clear without censorship of consciousness and set free figures without memory of already existing images.

Political disputes had contributed to the dissolution of the group of Surrealists after 1928/29. Despite a revival during the Resistance (1940–1944), after the Second World War there was hardly any question of a surrealist movement. Under the French influence, surrealism gained a foothold particularly in Spain , the United States, and Mexico . There a small splinter group formed around the Austrian exile Wolfgang Paalen , whose holistic ideas, through his art magazine Dyn, had a great influence on the genesis of so-called Abstract Expressionism. Surrealist literary texts by authors such as Alfred Kubin , Hermann Kasack and others were also used in the German-speaking world . written. Surrealism has also found its way into literature. There, with the help of literary impulses from German romanticism and French symbolism and with the inclusion of contemporary sciences such as psychiatry and psychoanalysis, literature could be redefined as a medium for changing the world and for self-knowledge. Surrealism has a lasting effect on a wide variety of works of contemporary art and literature, such as concrete and abstract poetry that has been created since around 1950.

Texts and ideas by René Magritte later had a great influence on conceptual art , e.g. B. Marcel Broodthaers . In the 1960s, the Situationists also appealed to the Surrealists in their attack on reality.

Today, every style that combines the real with the dreamy or mystical is called surrealist. The unreal or the senseless context also claims the same natural character of reality as everyday reality, which itself often seems surreal or absurd . Surrealistic image and dream worlds have found their way into everyday life as commercial products through advertising and mass media (e.g. contemporary toys ). But surrealism is (again) alive in contemporary painting as well.

Post-Breton surrealism

Although the term “Surrealism” historically means the group of artists around Breton, there are also many other groups and individuals who have taken up the name in the succession.

In 1947 Christian Dotremont founded the short-lived Revolutionary Surrealist Group ; In 1948 he joined forces with Asger Jorn and several other artists to form the group COBRA . Parallel to COBRA, Lettrism, influenced by Surrealism, developed around Isidore Isou in France .

Members of these various groups eventually merged in the 1950s to form the Situationist International , which maintained a complex relationship with surrealism. Some situationists like Asger Jorn, Charles Radcliffe and Raoul Vaneigem were clearly influenced by and reflected surrealism, while others like Guy Debord distanced themselves from it. While surrealist techniques were still part of the concept, the political claim was often paramount in Situationism.

The Chicago Surrealist Group, founded in 1966, was similarly politically motivated . In Europe, too, groups of artists emerged in the second half of the 20th century, such as the Polish Orange Alternative , who implemented surrealist concepts in political actions.

Numerous groups such as Massurrealism , the OFFAL Project in New York or the Surrealist London Action Group are currently explicitly referring to surrealist ideas. In painting, too, surrealist motifs and techniques continue to be taken up, for example by Wolfgang Lettl , Frank Kortan and Roberto Yáñez .

Members of the surrealist group

Salvador Dalí and Man Ray , June 16, 1934 in Paris , photographer: Carl van Vechten

Maxime Alexandre (excluded in 1932), Richard Anders , Louis Aragon (excluded in 1932), Jean Arp , Antonin Artaud (excluded in 1926), Jacques Baron , Georges Bataille ( excluded in 1929), Victor Brauner , André Breton , Luis Buñuel , René Char , Achille Chavée , Giorgio de Chirico , René Crevel , Salvador Dalí (1934 excl.), Robert Desnos , Oscar Dominguez , Marcel Duhamel , Paul Éluard (1938 excl.), Max Ernst (1954 excl.), Camille Goemans , Irène Hamoir , Wifredo Lam , Michel Leiris , Gilbert Lély , Georges Limbour , René Magritte , Marcel Mariën , Joyce Mansour , André Masson , Roberto Matta (1948 excl.), ELT Mesens , Joan Miró , Max Morise (1929 excl.), Paul Nash , Pierre Naville , Vítězslav Nezval , Paul Nougé , Wolfgang Paalen (1942 excluded), Roland Penrose , Benjamin Péret , Francis Picabia , José Pierre , Jacques Prévert (left 1930 himself), Raymond Queneau (1930 excluded), Man Ray , Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes , Hans Richter , Robert Rius , Louis Scutenaire , Kurt Seligmann , Philippe Soupault (1926 excl.), André Souris , Shuzo Takiguchi , Georges Spiro , Yves Tanguy , Toyen , Tristan Tzara , Pierre Unik (1932 excl.), Roger Vitrac (1926 excl.), Gellu Naum , Hans Bellmer .


Poem from the Calligrammes by Apollinaire

“I believe in the future dissolution of these apparently so contradicting states of dream and reality in a kind of absolute reality, if you can say: surreality. After conquering it, I strive, certainly not to reach it, but too unconcerned about my death not to at least weigh up the joys of such possession. "

- André Breton : First Surrealism Manifesto (1924)

"It's beautiful [...] like the chance encounter between an umbrella and a sewing machine on the dissection table."

- Lautréamont : The Songs of Maldoror VI, 3 (1869)

The Comte de Lautréamont is considered to be the “grandfather” of Surrealism. André Gide saw it as the greatest achievement of Louis Aragon , André Breton and Philippe Soupault to have recognized and proclaimed its "literary and ultra-literary importance" . In 1920 Man Ray took the now famous passage from Canto 6 as the starting point for his work "The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse" (The Secret of Isidore Ducasse). The songs of Maldoror inspired numerous other surrealist artists, including Salvador Dalí, René Magritte , Victor Brauner , Oscar Dominguez , Joan Miró and Yves Tanguy . In direct reference to Lautréamont's “chance encounter”, Max Ernst defined the structure of the surrealist image: “Collage technique is the systematic exploitation of the accidental or artificially provoked meeting of two or more alien realities on an apparently unsuitable level - and the spark of poetry , which skips when approaching these realities. "

Surrealism artists

Surrealistic films

The classics of surrealist film are An Andalusian Dog (Un chien andalou) and The Golden Age (L'Âge d'Or) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí . The latter caused a scandal when it was performed in 1930 when right-wing groups threw bags of paint against the canvas and destroyed surrealist images. In order to maintain the calm the film was banned for decades.

Antonin Artaud , Philippe Soupault and Robert Desnos wrote scripts for surrealist films. Alfred Hitchcock had a dream sequence from his film Spellbound (“I fight for you”) designed by Salvador Dalí. The films by Viking Eggeling , Hans Richter and Fernand Léger show a relationship .

Films of the Surrealist Movement:

The surrealist aesthetic was later also taken up by feature film directors, for example by Alain Resnais ( last year in Marienbad ) and Glauber Rocha , but also again by Luis Buñuel ( El ángel exterminador , 1962; The discreet charm of the bourgeoisie , 1972; Das Gespenst der Freedom , 1974). Alejandro Jodorowsky's films are strongly influenced by surrealism: Fando y Lis (1967), El Topo (1971), The Holy Mountain (1973), Santa Sangre (1989). David Lynch can be seen as a well-known current representative , many of his films (e.g. Eraserhead , 1977 or Lost Highway , 1997) have a surreal character. A dream-like atmosphere repeatedly blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination (also in Mulholland Drive , 2001).

Films with partly surrealistic features:

The protagonists
literature Visual arts
Louis Aragon , Antonin Artaud , Georges Bataille , André Breton, René Crevel , Paul Éluard , Benjamin Péret , Jacques Prévert , Philippe Soupault , Tristan Tzara , Gellu Naum Jean Arp , Luis Buñuel , Salvador Dalí , Max Ernst , Alberto Giacometti , Eli Lotar , René Magritte , Roberto Matta , André Masson , Joan Miró , Man Ray , Yves Tanguy , Victor Brauner

Surrealist exhibitions

See also


Web links

Commons : Surrealism  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Surrealism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Keyser's Grosses Stil-Lexikon Europa. 780 to 1980 . Keysersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-87405-150-1 , p. 482. - The comprehensive characterization as intellectual movement, lifestyle, art of living can be found in: Anja Tippner: The permanent avant-garde ?: Surrealism in Prague. Cologne / Weimar 2009, p. 80 and p. 267. - Something similar can also be found in Walter Mönch: France's culture: tradition and revolt. From classic to surrealism. Berlin / New York 1972, p. 683 ff.
  2. a b Duden, universal dictionary: surreal, dreamlike-unreal. Surrealism, French surréalisme, from sur (from Latin super) = about and réalisme = realism
  3. Uwe. M. Schneede: The Art of Surrealism. P. 215. - Cf. also Nathalia Brodskaja: Surrealism. New York 2012, p. 48 ff.
  4. ( memento of July 24, 2012 in the web archive ): Nicole Haitzinger: EX Ante: “Parade” under frictions. Choreographic concepts in collaboration with Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Léonide Massine , accessed December 14, 2011.
  5. In: George H. Hamilton: Painting and Sculpture in Europe: 1880-1940 . Penguin Books, 1972, p. 388.
  6. a b Stephen C. Foster: Form-Finding and Freedom. In: Man Ray . Edition Stemmle, Zurich, 1989, ISBN 3-7231-0388-X , p. 237 f.
  7. Cf. Walter Mönch : France's Culture: Tradition and Revolte. From classic to surrealism. Berlin / New York 1972, p. 683 ff.
  8. see André Thirion: Révolutionnaires sans Révolution. Paris 1972.
  9. See Nathalia Brodskaia: Surrealism. New York 2012, pp. 7-62.
  10. For the philosophical context, see also Truth .
  11. Cf. Rita Bischof: Teleskopagen, optionally: literary surrealism and the image. Frankfurt / Main 2001, p. 54 f.
  12. Gaétan Picon: The Surrealism (1919-1939). Skira, Geneva 1988, ISBN 3-8030-3112-5 .
  13. ^ André Breton: The manifestos of surrealism. Reinbek 1968, p. 25 f.
  14. Volker Zotz: Breton. P. 62 f.
  15. Uwe M. Schneede: The history of art in the 20th century. P. 88.
  16. See Anja Tippner: The permanent avant-garde ?: Surrealism in Prague. Cologne / Weimar 2009. - Also: Nathalia Brodskaia: Surrealism. New York 2012, p. 62.
  17. Official website of the Surrealist Movement in the USA
  18. Uwe M. Schneede: The history of art in the 20th century. From the avant-garde to the present . CH Beck, Munich 2001, ISBN 3-406-48197-3 , p. 90 f.