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Surrealism was an artistic movement of the early twentieth century that sought to translate the mysterious workings of the subconscious mind into bizarre, fantastical works of art and literature.

André Breton

Althought the Spanish painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was the best-known face of surrealism, the movement spanned many different genres and had a marked impact of twentieth-century art.

The surrealist movement’s de facto leader was a French psychoanalyst named André Breton (1896-1966). Breton was deeply influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and began to experiment with techniques for tapping into the subconscious mind.

The first technique he tried was automatic writing – an effort to directly record the thoughts of the subconscious. To do so, surrealist practitioners had to ignore the normal requirements of “good” writing, including narrative structure and any standard of beauty.

When Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, he defined surrealism as the attempt to transcribe thought “in the absence of all control exercised by the reason.”

René Magritte

In the years that followed, the movement gained prominence. What began as a group that occasionally met in Parisian cafés became an international movement that ranged from literature to film. Major figures included the Italian Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), the Belgian René Magritte (1898-1967), and the Spanish painters Joan Miró (1893-1983) and Dali. The French writer Antonin Artaud (1896-1948) used surrealist techniques to revolutionize the theater. And the Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) brought surrealism to the cinema.

Luis Buñuel

Though Buñuel was a somewhat obscure figure, he may have been the most influential. Surrealism has dwindled as an artistic and literary movement, but – from the twists in The Twilight Zone to the dreams in Dumbo – it has never faded from the screen.

In the 1930s, the surrealist movement was divided by politics.Breton and others left or were expelled from the Communist Party, while some of their colleagues remained loyal to Moscow.