Bizarre, strange, unusual, freakish – these are many of the synonyms people associate with surrealism. However, the human brain can propel itself to limitless distances, once it realises there is nothing better than challenging the ordinary. That, by extension, is the very point that surrealism tries to make.
Surrealism is an art movement that boomed in Europe after World War I and influenced literature and artistry to twist and turn into new limits that had never been crossed before.
In literature, surrealism was initiated by André Breton, a French writer and poet. He is the father of surrealism, describing the phenomenon as a "pure psychic automatism" in the first Surrealist Manifesto. The movement was boosted by the confusion and dread created by the subsequent two World Wars. Writers wanted to break away from the political cages that restricted artistry. One example of surrealism is Breton's poem, Freedom of Love.
My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with the lips of a cockade and of a bunch of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host.
This is an excerpt from the poem, where Breton describes a culmination of objects that have no relation to each other – his wife, a wood fire, an hourglass, the teeth of a tiger, and many other things. This paints a picture of irrationality in the reader's mind.
In art, surrealism was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud's work on dream analysis and the unconscious. It was a method of artistry which celebrated idiosyncrasy. Artists such as Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Robert Desnos and many others, combined everyday objects that wouldn't be put together in an ordinary situation, to create an extraordinary effect that would surpass all logic and most importantly, leave the viewer unsettled. However, it does not mean that surrealism should elicit fear. It is, quite simply, the imagination liberated.
Persistence of Memory is, without a doubt, one of Salvador Dali's most famous paintings and one of the greatest surrealist artworks ever created (google it!). As described by Dali himself, the soft watches were inspired by the surrealist perception of a melting Camembert, a form of cow's milk cheese. Dali was one of the pioneers of modern surrealism, and all of his works included symbolic meanings.
Surrealism has been reimagined and reinvented in film, fashion and art. Modern artists who are putting a contemporary spin on surrealism include Chen Zhou, Julie Curtiss, Penny Slinger and many others. Surrealism has made its mark in animation and films such as Mulholland Drive (2001), Paprika (2006), and many others.
The great wars left a lasting impact on people. Artists and writers tried to express the bizarre reality of their times in the form of shocking imagery and puzzling objects, which was a representation of the confusion and ever-changing situation. From the 1920s onward, surrealism has crept in to impact visual arts, literature, film and music, featuring amazing elements of surprise and strange juxtapositions. The surrealist works of that time are still influential to this day and still is an amazing tool for artists to unleash their creativity.
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