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What is surrealism? By Becky Rydel

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

So, what is surrealism? Like most things in the art world, the definition of surrealism is open to interpretation, however the most common description is, in my own words, “the rejection of rational thought” This means that the artist aims to create a dreamlike world, where nothing makes sense but often has deeper meanings hidden within the work which will force a logical viewer to see the world differently.

Take for example, Salvador Dali, probably the most recognized surrealism artist who has become a household name. he began as a fine art graduate but is most well known for his surrealism, i'm sure you will recognize this painting titled “the persistence of memory”

you know, the one with the melting clocks? Many experts believe the deeper meaning of this work, other than the hardness/softness theme, is that of Albert Einsteins theory of relativity, of space and time, and the collapse of a fixed cosmic order, Dali himself responded to this theory by stating it is in fact his surrealist perception of Camembert melting in the sun, whether or not he was joking we will never know.

Many surreal artworks show symbolism of time and space, with clocks, eyes, galaxies, gravity, shapes, and even chessboards being frequently shown in surreal artworks. Surrealism should not make sense, here are a couple of works from Local Surrealism Artist, Becky Rydel; “awakening” and “blood moon rising” Humans don’t have wings or bio-mechanical bodies, nor is the moon pink, that large, or pour down into a waterfall, try to think about what these pieces mean and you should be able to look deeper into all kinds of paintings on your next trip to the gallery! Most of the time the title of a piece will give you clues, or at least a visual description. In awakening, the figure is trapped, exposed, in distress, mechanical and seemingly tortured, what do you think the artist was trying to get across in this piece?


Its important to note that all art is open to interpretation so if you see it in a different way than that’s completely fine! Ready for the next one?

In blood moon rising, we are seeing both a literal and symbolical image of the moon controlling the tides, of the ocean, of time, and things beyond our control. Think you have the hang of it now? Here’s a few by famous artists, some of them you may recognise; Now that we know the meaning of surrealism and have seen some examples, it is important to learn some of the history behind this movement! In this blog we have focused on traditional paintings, but surrealism occurs throughout all mediums including, Poetry, film, photography, literature, and even music.

Surrealism has evolved over time, beginning as mostly written word and collages all the way to the present day where artists have access to inspiration, tablets and photo editors where they can create digital art or get inspired simply by scrolling through social media, it was a lot more difficult in the past to think in a surrealist way and many artists relied on their dreams, starving themselves, or using illicit substances to see these visions, try to think of a new colour, or a new art style, one that no one has ever seen before, and you’ll realize how difficult it must have been for these artists to imagine things or worlds that don’t exist or make sense, its still difficult now of course but we have books, movies, and photo editing software where we can manipulate reason to become impossible.

Onto the history of surrealism, where did it begin? How? There is a lot of history here that would take hours to scratch the surface of so this is a brief, introductory account into the beginning of surrealism It began as a cultural movement shortly after world war 1, influenced largely by existing and former members of DADA, short for Dadaism, now that would need a whole new blog on its own! So to be brief, they consisted of artists who rejected logic, reason, and aesthetics, especially of their modern capitalist society, they aimed to express nonsense, irrationality, and a discontent towards war, violence, and nationalism.

Dadaism was highly influenced by cubism, expressionism, and abstract art, which in turn led to the surrealism movement. The term surrealism first appeared in the March of 1917 in the form of a letter, and later, in a play. After this it became a common term for describing the supernatural, strange, or otherworldly.

By the October of 1924 two rival surrealist groups had published a “surrealist manifesto” after a lot of quarreling over which group had rights to the term, Andre Breton and his group came out on top. Throughout the 1930s is when surrealism reached it’s golden age, Salvador Dali joined the movement in 1929 and played a large part in the rapid establishment of surrealism as a method to expose psychological truth; stripping objects of their significance, and creating compelling imagery that would evoke empathy from the viewer. In modern times, surrealism is still largely embraced by all societies and cultures, it remains a talking point for many and encourages people to discuss the arts.


Thank you for reading and i hope you learnt something new!


Author and Editor: Becky Rydel






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