You are on page 1of 9

At the opening ceremony of The Art of This Century Museum on 57th St.

Manhattan, Peggy Guggenheim, the founder, was wearing one earring by Yves
Tanguy, the surrealist, and another by Alexander Calder, the abstractionist. She
explained to her guests that this showed her neutrality in the conflict between
the often hostile schools of Abstractionism and Surrealism. That was in 1941,
yet soon after, Peggy's gallery and museum became a center for abstract
expressionism, under the newly coined term Modernism.

Since then, neither the Guggenheim, nor any other major player in the
American art establishment, has bothered to show any neutrality. In fact, in
1941, Surrealism was declared dead and has been described as such in all art
history books since that time. Therefore, the hundreds of artists working in this
style who are originally from, or live in, the United States, have received no
attention from critics, galleries or museums. This has left them outside the
reach of three generations of Americans who, by and large, are unaware of the
work done by surrealists during the second half of the century.

Michael S. Bell, a specialist in American Art, researched the surrealist

phenomena while he was assistant curator at the Museum of Modern Art in San
Francisco. His research led him to the conclusion that:

"It remains a dire need,

if truth be still an
honorable cause, to set
forth an option upon the
records of time by which
considerate humanity
might judge for itself the
merits and the players in
one of our century's most
vilified and degraded
forms of expression."

In the Beginning

Surrealism as we know it today is closely related to

some forms of abstract art. In fact, they shared
similar origins, but they diverged on their
interpretation of what those origins meant to the
aesthetic of art.
At the end of the First War World, Tristan Tzara, leader of the Dada
movement, wanted to attack society through scandal. He believed that a society
that creates the monstrosity of war does not deserve art, so he decided to give it
anti-art–not beauty but ugliness. With phrases like Dada destroys
everything! Tzara wanted to offend the new industrial commercial world–the
bourgeoisie. However, his intended victims were not insulted at all. Instead
they thought that this rebellious new expression opposed, not them but the "old
art" and the "old patrons" of feudalism and church dominion. In fact, the
bourgeoisie embraced this "rebellious" new art so thoroughly that anti-art
became Art, the anti-academy the Academy, the anti-conventionalism the
Convention, and the rebellion through chaotic images, the status quo.

One group of artists, however, did not embrace this new art that threw away all
which centuries of artists had learned and passed on about the craft of art.
TheSurrealist movement gained momentum after the Dada movement. It was
lead by Andre Breton, a French doctor who had fought in the trenches during
the First World War. The artists in the movement researched and studied the
works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Some of the artists in the group
expressed themselves in the abstract tradition, while others, expressed
themselves in the symbolic tradition.

Two Distinct Groups Emerge

Michael S. Bell, through his research, realized that these two forms of
expression formed two distinct trends of surrealism with marked differences.
One could be qualified as Automatism, the other, as Veristic Surrealism.
"Automatism" explains Mr. Bell, "is a form of abstraction. It has been the only
type of surrealism accepted by critical reviewers after the war."

Basically, two different interpretations of the works of Freud and Jung divided
the two groups. For the purpose of personal analysis, Jung had talked about not
judging the images of the subconscious, but simply accepting them as they
came into consciousness so they could be analyzed. This was termed

The Automatists
When psychology talked about Automatism, these artists interpreted it as
referring to a suppression of consciousness in favor of the subconscious.
This group, being more focused on feeling and less analytical,
understood Automatism to be the automatic way in which the images of
the subconscious reach the conscience. They believed these images
should not be burdened with "meaning."
Faithful to this interpretation, the Automatists saw the academic
discipline of art as intolerant of the free expression of feeling, and felt
form, which had dominated the history of art, was a culprit in that
intolerance. They believed abstractionism was the only way to bring to
life the images of the subconscious. Coming from the Dada tradition,
these artists also linked scandal, insult and irreverence toward the elite's
with freedom. They continued to believe that lack of form was a way to
rebel against them.

 The Veristic Surrealists

This group, on the other hand, interpreted Automatism to mean allowing
the images of the subconscious to surface undisturbed so that their
meaning could then be deciphered through analysis. They wanted to
faithfully represent these images as a link between the abstract spiritual
realities, and the real forms of the material world. To them, the object
stood as a metaphor for an inner reality. Through metaphor the concrete
world could be understood, not by looking at the objects, but by looking
into them.

Veristic Surrealists, saw academic discipline and form as the means to

represent the images of the subconscious with veracity; as a way to
freeze images that, if unrecorded, would easily dissolve once again into
the unknown. They hoped to find a way to follow the images of the
subconscious until the conscience could understand their meaning. The
language of the subconscious is the image, and the consciousness had to
learn to decode that language so it could translate it into its own
language of words.

Later, Veristic Surrealism branched out into three other groups

(see Research on Surrealism In America).

Two Masters, Two Opposing Approaches to Art

Every profession has its own history in which the accumulation of knowledge
is the basis to push the frontiers into the unknown. Dali and Picasso are two
masters who stand at the vanguard of two opposite approaches to art in the
Twentieth Century: To use that accumulated knowledge and build upon it, or to
discard it.

Dali embraced all the science of painting as a way to study the psyche through
subconscious images. He called this process the Paranoiac Critical Method. As
any paranoiac, the artist should allow these images to reach the conscience, and
then do what the paranoiac cannot do: Freeze them on canvas to give
consciousness the opportunity to comprehend their meaning. Later on, he
expanded the process into the Oniric-Critical Method, in which the artist pays
attention to his dreams, freezing them through art, and analyzing them as well.
As Freud said, "A dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not

Picasso took the opposite approach to art. He inherited the gusto for ugliness,
scandal and chaos of the Dada movement and the automatic surrealists. Picasso
rejected the craft to become "primitive," deciding that the ingenuity of
childhood is the basis of art. To him this meant that the less the artist is
preoccupied with his craft the better his art. To Dali, however, the "ingenuity of
childhood" meant keeping an open mind and maintaining the curiosity and
excitement of the child throughout one's life, not painting as a child.

The Struggle of Surrealism

For the automatists the approach to the mystery of Nature is to never become
conscious of the mystery, for the surrealists it is to learn from it. The Picasso
camp, won the "faith" of society. The Dali camp would have to secure a dialog
with the public to be able to show the individual the "surrealist way of life" or
the "path of individuation" as Jung called it.

The Veristic Surrealist quest is none other than the one described by Breton as,
"The cause of freedom and the transformation of man's consciousness." In the
works of surrealists we find the legacy of Bosch, Brueguel, William Blake, the
Symbolic painters of the Nineteenth Century, the perennial questioning of
philosophy, the search of psychology, and the spirit of mysticism. It is work
based on the desire to permit the forces that created the world to illuminate our
vision, allowing us to consciously develop our human potential.

The Veristic surrealists of today recognize the difficulties that their movement
has faced during the second half of the Twentieth Century as it attempted to
become a major cultural force, like modernism had. The United States, a
country in which the business community never had to share its power with the
aristocracy, wholeheartedly embraced abstraction and modernism. They shared
the belief of abstract artists that the chaos of action painting and automatism
were expressions of freedom, and that form, subjugation and inhibition walked
hand in hand.

The American art establishment looked at the image of form with mistrust until
the advent of Pop Art, which glorified the imperialism of commerce,
advertisement and marketing. Later, Photorealism which glorified modern life,
was accepted. With these two movements Realism entered the cultural picture
again (see Art Through the Ages). Therefore, the only historical artistic
expression still in want of recognition as a cultural force in the Twentieth
Century, is Veristic Surrealism.

The Future of Surrealism

Because it was ignored and rejected by the new academy of modernism,

Veristic Surrealism in its evolution has become a new art. A new art that in the
words of Donald Kuspit, "Must first show that it has democratic appeal–appeal
to those generally unschooled in art or not professionally interested in it. Then
it must suffer a period of aristocratic rejection by those schooled in an accepted
and thereby 'traditional' form of art–those with a vested interest in a known art
and concerned with protecting it at all costs."

Contemporary Veristic Surrealists have worked for the past fifty years in silent
seclusion. A renaissance of this art form will provide the world with new
eternal aesthetic pleasures and reawaken the use of meaningful expression in
art, so that it can once again have a dialogue with the public.

It would take fifty years for artists born after the Second World War to discover
how right this method is for helping us all understand the architecture of the
psyche. Those who have understood the method, who have faithfully followed
the images of the subconscious and, with patience, painted and analyzed them,
have a lot to teach us about the make up and interaction of the three planes of
the Spiritual, the psychological, and the physical.
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 “nonart.” 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 (de la Croix 705).
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” (de la
Croix 706). Though the movement was started to emphasize nonconformity,
Picabia declared Dada to be dead in 1922, saying that it had become too
organized a movement (Leslie 58). Despite the fact that it was declared dead, the
Dada movement planted the seeds of another, more organized 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 (Diehl 131).
The French poet, André 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” (de la Croix 708). He
first used the word surrealism to describe work found to be a “fusion of elements
of fantasywith elements of the modern world to form a kind of superior reality.”
He also described it as “spontaneous writing” (Surrealism 4166-67). The first
exhibition of surrealist painting was held in 1925, but its ideas were rejected in
Europe (Diehl 131). Brenton set up an International Exhibition of Surrealism in
New York, which then took the place of Paris as the center of the Surrealist
movement (Pierre i). 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 is defined as “Psychic automatism in its pure state by which we
propose to express- verbally, in writing, or in any other manner- the real process
of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of any control exercised by
reason and outside any aesthetic or moral concerns” (Leslie 59). In other words,
the general idea of Surrealism is nonconformity. This nonconformity was not as
extreme as that of Dada since surrealism was still considered to be art. Brenton
said that “pure psychic automatism” was the most important principle of
Surrealism. He believed that true surrealists had no real talent; they just spoke
their thoughts as they happened (Leslie 61-63). Surrealism used techniques that
had never been used in the art world before.

Surrealists believed in the innocent eye, that art was created in the unconscious
mind (Mak 1). Most Surrealists worked with psychology and fantastic visual
techniques, basing their art on memories, feelings, and dreams (Scholastic 3).
They often used hypnotism and drugs to venture into the dream world, where
they looked for unconscious images that were not available in the conscious
world. These images were seen as pure art (Mak 2). Such ventures into the
unconscious mind lead Brenton to believe that surrealists equaled scientists and
could “lead the exploration into new areas and methods of investigation” (Leslie

Surrealists strongly embraced

the ideas of Sigmund Freud.
His method of psychoanalytic
interpretation could be used to
bring forth and illuminate the
unconscious (Surrealism 4167).
Freud once said, “A dream that
is not interpreted is like a letter
that is not opened,” and
Surrealists adapted this idea
into their artwork (Sanchez 4).
Although Surrealists strongly
supported the ideas of Freud,
Brenton visited him in 1921 and
left without his support (Leslie

Freud inspired many

Surrealists, but two different
interpretations of his ideas lead
to two different types of
Surrealists, Automatists and
Veristic Surrealists. Automatists focused their work more on feeling and were
less investigative. They believed automatism to be “the automatic way in which
the images of the subconscious reach the conscious” (Sanchez 2). However they
did not think the images had a meaning or should try to be interpreted.
Automatists thought that abstract art was the only way to convey images of the
subconscious, and that a lack of form was a way to rebel against traditional art.
In this way they were much like Dadaists. On the other side Veristic Surrealists
believed subconscious images did have meaning. They felt that these images
were a metaphor that, if studied, could enable the world to be understood.
Veristic Surrealists also believed that the language of the subconscious world
was in the form of image. While their work may look similar, Automatists only see
art where Veristic Surrealists see meaning (Sanchez 2-5).

Surrealism drew elements from

Cubism and Expressionism,
and used some of the same
techniques from the Dada
movement (Leslie 4).
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
(Scholastic 4). 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”
(de la Croix 710). 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 (Leslie 71). An additional
characteristic of Surrealist art is the fact that many pieces have very obvious or
simple titles stating the subject matter simply (de la Croix 709). 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.
René 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