Surrealism is a movement for the liberation of the mind that emphasizes the critical and imaginative powers of the unconscious. Often misinterpreted as an artistic movement, it has transformed visual art, writing, film, and political thought, not to mention everyday life.
While related to Dada, from which many of its initial members came, surrealism is significantly broader in scope. As Dada was a negative response to the First World War, surrealism possesses a more positive view that the world can be changed and transformed into a fertile crescent of freedom, love, and poetry.
André Breton's Surrealist Manifesto of 1924 and the publication of the magazine La Révolution Surréaliste ("The Surrealist Revolution") marked the beginning of the movement as a public agitation. In the manifesto of 1924 Breton defines surrealism as "pure psychic automatism" with automatism being spontaneous creative production without conscious moral or aesthetic self-censorship. By Breton's admission, however, as well as by the subsequent development of the movement, this was a definition capable of considerable expansion.
Breton and Philippe Soupault wrote the first automatic book, Les Champs Magnetiques, in 1919. Later, automatic drawing was developed by André Masson, and automatic drawing and automatic painting, as well as other automatistic methods, such as decalcomania, frottage, fumage, grattage and parsemage became significant parts of surrealist practice. (Automatism was later adapted to the computer.) Surrealist films, such as Un Chien Andalou and L'Age D'Or were also produced. Many of the popular artists in Paris throughout the 1920s and 1930s were surrealists, including René Magritte, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Alberto Giacometti, Valentine Hugo, Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, and Yves Tanguy. Games such as the exquisite corpse also assumed a great importance in surrealism. Today surrealists continue to play old surrealist games and to invent new surrealist games, such as Time Travelers' Potlatch and What is Wrong With This Picture; and procedures, such as the dream resume.
Often considered exclusively French, surrealism was in fact international from the beginning, with both the Belgian and Czech groupss developing early. In fact, some of the most significant surrealist theorists and the most radical of surrealist methods have hailed from countries other than France. For example, the technique of cubomania was invented by Romanian surrealist Gherasim Luca. Today there continue to be groups scattered throughout world, such as the Surrealist Group in Stockholm, British Surrealist Group in Leeds (England), as well as Madrid, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Portugal.
Although in popular culture, particularly in the United States of America, surrealism is often identified with the paintings of Salvador Dalí, Dalí was in fact expelled from the surrealist movement in the late 1930s for his far right-wing tendencies, and after that time his painting has little significance for surrealism, moving further and further away from the movement.
The 1960s saw a dramatic expansion of surrealism with the developement of the Surrealist Movement in the United States headed by the Chicago Surrealist Group, whose founders, Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, have produced some of the best English language texts on surrealism, and 1976 saw the Surrealist Movement in the United States play the major role in organizing the World Surrealist Exhibition in Chicago. Other surrealist groups were later formed in the United States, such as the Wisconsin Surrealist Group, the Portland Surrealist Group in Oregon, the Houston Surrealist Group, the Blue Feathers group in Minnesota, and a collection of surrealists in San Francisco.
While Surrealism is typically associated with the arts, it has been said to transcend them; surrealism has had an impact in many other fields. In this sense, surrealism is not specifically the privilege of self-identified "surrealists" or those sanctioned by Breton, it refers to a range of creative acts of revolt and efforts to liberate the imagination. One might say that surrealist strands may be found in movements such as Free Jazz (Don Cherry, Sun Ra, etc.) and even in the daily lives of people in confrontation with limiting social conditions. Thought of as the effort of humanity to liberate the imagination as an act of insurrection against society, surrealism dates back to, or finds precedents in, the alchemists, possibly Dante, various heretical groups, Hieronymus Bosch, Marquis de Sade, Charles Fourier, Comte de Lautreamont and Arthur Rimbaud. Some people believe that "Non-western" cultures also provide a continued source of inspiration for surrealist activity because some may strike up a better balance between instrumental reason and the imagination in flight than western culture.
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