June 20, 2013 | 12:30 PM (BD Time)
20 June, 2013 Thursday
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Origins of Surrealism
History of Surrealist art movement
Art & Culture Desk :
Sometimes through history, something comes along that changes everything as it has been known thus far. In the 1920’s, such an art movement came around that changed the way art was defined. The Surrealist art movement combined elements of its predecessors, Dada and cubism, to create something unknown to the art world. The movement was first rejected, but its eccentric ideas and unique techniques paved the way for a new form of art.
The Surrealist art movement stemmed from the earlier Dada movement. Dada was a movement in which artists stated their disgust with the war and with life in general. These artists showed that European culture had lost meaning to them by creating pieces of “anti-art” or “non-art.” The idea was to go against traditional art and all for which it stood.
“Dada” became the movement's name as a baby-talk term to show their feeling of nonsense toward the art world. Art from this movement was often violent and had an attitude of combat or protest. One historian stated that, “Dada was born from what is hated”.
Though the movement was started to emphasise nonconformity, Picabia declared Dada to be dead in 1922, saying that it had become too organised a movement. Despite the fact that it was declared dead, the Dada movement planted the seeds of another, more organised movement.
The Surrealist movement started in Europe in the 1920’s, after World War I with its nucleus in Paris. Its roots were found in Dada, but it was less violent and more artistically based. Surrealism was first the work of poets and writers. The French poet, Andre Brenton, is known as the “Pope of Surrealism.” Brenton wrote the Surrealist manifesto to describe how he wanted to combine the conscious and subconscious into a new “absolute reality”. He first used the word surrealism to describe work found to be a “fusion of elements of fantasy with elements of the modern world to form a kind of superior reality.” He also described it as “spontaneous writing”. The first exhibition of surrealist painting was held in 1925, but its ideas were rejected in Europe. Brenton set up an International Exhibition of Surrealism in New York, which then took the place of Paris as the centre of the Surrealist movement. Soon surrealist ideas were given new life and became an influence over young artists in the United Sates and Mexico. The ideas of Surrealism were bold and new to the art world.
Surrealism drew elements from Cubism and Expressionism, and used some of the same techniques from the Dada movement. Nonetheless there were certain techniques and devices that were characteristic to Surrealist art. Some devices including levitation, changing an object’s scale, transparency, and repetition are used to create a “typical” surrealist look. A very common Surrealist technique is the juxtaposition of objects that would typically not be together in a certain situation or together at all. This has been described as “beautiful as the encounter of an umbrella and a sewing-machine on a dissecting table”. Juxtaposition can be used to show a metaphor or to convey a certain message. Many surrealist artists painted very realistically but had one displaced object that changed the painting entirely.
Another technique called “objective chance” used images found in nature that could not be created by an artist. Stencils and rubbings were used to utilize these images. An additional characteristic of Surrealist art is the fact that many pieces have very obvious or simple titles stating the subject matter simply. These techniques are typical of most Surrealist art but it would not be correct to describe Surrealism as “typical.” Some of the most famous Surrealist artists used these techniques to make masterpieces.
Rene Magritte, a Surrealist artist, used traditional techniques to paint very realistic images. As a poster and wallpaper designer, he learned to paint realistically. His art frequently depicted images of everyday life; however, he creatively changed some aspects to give his work certain meaning. Magritte was able to turn dull images into extraordinary ones. Magritte’s own image, dressed in a dark suit and bowler hat, frequently appeared in his work. Many of his paintings had sinister and violent meanings, and the importance of surroundings was often stressed.
Although many Surrealist painters studied traditional art, Max Ernst was a self-taught painter. He felt that true subconscious art was the images in the minds of those thought to be insane. He studied philosophy and psychiatry and even visited an asylum to experience those images first hand. His paintings repeatedly used the vegetable, the animal, the mineral, and the human kingdoms. In 1925, he began to use ‘frottage’ to express his feelings of fantasy and of the bizarre. Frottage is a rubbing technique in which the texture of an object is rubbed onto a piece of paper. These rubbings were then arranged into collages.
Salvador Dali, one of the most famous Surrealist artists, was known for his wild art and a public personality to match. He once said, “It is not necessary of the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself”.
Dali first wrote poems, essays, and even books, his most famous being The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Inspired by the Dutch masters of the 17th century realism, Dali's art was known for its realistic qualities. He used multiple symbolic images to suggest his subconscious. His paintings were odd, influenced by his dreams and his fear of sex. This fear was present in many of his works, which depict sexual and violent images.
Dali felt that the three constants of life were “the sexual instinct, the sentiment of death, and the anguish of space and time”. He had two methods for creating art: the oniric-critical method and the paranoiac-critical method. In the former, the artist freezes and interprets his dreams through art. The latter is the science of painting so as to study the psyche through subconscious art.
Dali rejected induced sleep used by other artists and termed his own style to be the paranoiac-critical method. A few of his pieces even had the words “paranoiac critical” in their titles. Even though he is one of the best know surrealist artists, in 1938 Dali dissociated himself from Surrealism and turned to Classicism. He stated his change as “a religious Renaissance based on a progressive Catholicism”, and in 1940 he moved to the United States to take part in the commercial culture.
The Surrealist art movement opened the doors to a style of art that the world had never before seen. Odd techniques were used to paint and interpret images of the subconscious and the dream world. Though many Surrealist artists used traditional means of painting, they developed techniques to bring metaphor and meaning into their work.
The obvious may have been stated but the meaning to Surrealist art was symbolic and often open to interpretation. This style and technique received much rejection by the art world but was eventually accepted and paved the way for other expressive forms of art.
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