international cultural movement that began in the early 1920s
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Surrealism was a cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in which artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. Works of Surrealism feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur. However, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.

I categorically refused to consider the surrealists as just another literary and artistic group. I believed they were capable of liberating man from the tyranny of the 'practical, rational world.' ~ Salvador Dalí


I am Surrealism. ~ Salvador Dalí


  • Those who might dispute our right to employ the term SURREALISM in the very special sense that we understand it are being extremely dishonest, for there can be no doubt that this word had no currency before we came along. Therefore, I am defining it once and for all: SURREALISM, Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
    • André Breton, 'First Surrealist Manifesto', Paris, 1924. Reprinted in André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, 1969.
  • Surrealism will usher you into death, which is a secret society. It will glove your hand, burying therein the profound M with which the word Memory begins. Do not forget to make proper arrangements for your last will and testament: speaking personally, I ask that I be taken to the cemetery in a moving van. May my friends destroy every last copy of the printing of the Speech concerning the Modicum of Reality.
    • André Breton, 'First Surrealist Manifesto', Paris, 1924. Reprinted in André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, 1969.
  • Surrealist methods would, moreover, demand to be heard. Everything is valid when it comes to obtaining the desired suddenness from certain associations. The pieces of paper that Picasso and Braque [Breton refers here to the early collage art of the two Cubists ] insert into their work have the same value as the introduction of a platitude into a literary analysis of the most rigorous sort. It is even permissible to entitle POEM what we get from the most random assemblage possible (observe, if you will, the syntax) of headlines and scraps of headlines cut out of the newspapers.
    • André Breton, 'First Surrealist Manifesto', Paris, 1924. Reprinted in André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, 1969.
  • ENCYCLOPEDIA: Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superiority of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dreams, in the disinterested play of thought.
    • André Breton, 'First Surrealist Manifesto', Paris, 1924. Reprinted in André Breton, Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, 1969.
  • Surrealism, such as I conceive of it, asserts our complete nonconformism clearly enough so that there can be no question of translating it, at the trial of the real world, as evidence for the defense. It could, on the contrary, only serve to justify the complete state of distraction which we hope to achieve here below.. .Surrealism is the 'invisible ray' which will one day enable us to win out over our opponents. 'You are no longer trembling, carcass'. This summer the roses are blue; the wood is of glass. The earth, draped in its verdant cloak, makes as little impression upon me as a ghost. It is living and ceasing to live which are imaginary solutions. Existence is elsewhere.
    • André Breton, The last sentences of the 'First Surrealist Manifesto', Paris, 1924. Reprinted in Manifestoes of Surrealism, University of Michigan Press, 1969.


  • In recent times, Surrealist painters have used descriptive illusionistic academic methods.
    • Jean Arp, his quote in a letter to Jan Brzekowski, ca. 1930, co-publisher of the Franco-Polish magazine 'L'art contemporain', as quoted in 'Jours effeuillés: Poèmes, essaies, souvenirs Gallimard, Paris 1966; p. 63
    • his critical statement refers to the art of the French Surrealists in which Arp participated for a few years.
  • Surrealism is, like all the offspring of Hegel, dialectical in its nature. That is to say, its aims are not best served if English writers imitate the work of French ones, nor if they simply adopt the name of 'surrealist.' Close study of the philosophical position of the French surrealists is needed to extract the essential purpose from the formal appearance of their work. But English writers will need something more; namely, a knowledge of their own language and literature.
    • Charles Madge, New Verse Magazine, December 1933. Cited in Natalya Lusty & Helen Groth, Dreams and Modernity: A Cultural History. Routledge, 2013 (p. 153).
  • The great task of this century is that of revising the old scales of value in every field, of destroying worn-out customs and institutions and of constructing a form of society in which men may be able to make full use of all their faculties. Few poets...have set about this task with so great a thoroughness as the surrealists. Already they have succeeded in widening and deepening the total of human experience.
  • If a really wide and properly organised international co-operation can be brought about, as there are signs that it shortly will be, surrealism may become of even more importance to the twentieth century than it is already. There will be, of course, objections to such a co-operation. In England, for instance, there will be many to protest that surrealism is foreign to the national temperament, that it cannot grow here as it has no roots in English tradition. Such an objection could only result from a lack of understanding of what surrealism is. As a matter of fact, there is a very strong surrealist element in English literature; one need quote only Shakespeare, Marlowe, Swift, Young, Coleridge, Blake, Beddoes, Lear and Carroll to prove this contention.
  • I have been inclined to regard the Surrealists as complete fools, but that young Spaniard Salvador Dali with his candid, fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate.


  • Surrealism lives, intensely and magnificently, having found and perfected an effective method of knowledge. Therein lies surrealism's dynamism. And it is precisely this sense of movement that has always kept it in the forefront of cultural and intellectual life, infinitely sensitive to the upheavals and disruptions of an epoch which is the "scourge of balance."
    • Suzanne Césaire, "1943: Surrealism and Us", 1943. Quoted in Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women : An International Anthology. A&C Black, 2000 (p.134)
  • Surrealism is the magical surprise of finding a lion in a wardrobe where you were "sure" of finding shirts.
    • Frida Kahlo, "I Paint My Own Reality", 1944. Quoted in Penelope Rosemont, Surrealist Women : An International Anthology. A&C Black, 2000 (p.145)
  • lt seems to me that today the Surrealist crisis is the central problem in French art. It is essential for future development that this crisis should be solved... The principal error in the aesthetic program of Surrealism is that it is too literary. Painters have experimented with visions, images, dreams, but not with painting, not with color.. .The unpainterliness of Surrealism has inevitably produced a reaction among younger painters. [Jorn is thinking here of French painters such as Bazaine, Esteve, Lapique, Singier, Le Moal and suggests there should be reciprocity].. .These artists cannot get any further unless they absorb the lessons of Surrealism into their painting, just as Surrealists can only advance if they adopt the painterly methods of the other group.
  • Art is magic. So say the surrealists. But how is it magic? In its metaphysical development? Or does some final transformation culminate in a magic reality? In truth, the latter is impossible without the former. If creation is not magic, the outcome cannot be magic. To worship the product and ignore its development leads to dilettantism and reaction. Art cannot result from sophisticated, frivolous, or superficial effects.
    • Hans Hofmann in 'Search for the Real in the Visual Arts' (1948), p. 40
  • The significance of a work of art is determined then by the quality of its growth. This involves intangible forces inherent in the process of development. Although these forces are surreal (that is, their nature is something beyond physical reality), they, nevertheless, depend on a physical carrier. The physical carrier (commonly painting or sculpture) is the medium of expression of the Surreal. Thus, an idea is communicable only when the surreal is converted into material terms. The artist's technical problem is how to transform the material with which he works back into the sphere of the spirit.
    • Hans Hofmann in 'Search for the Real in the Visual Arts' (1948), p. 40
  • All these isms are of foreign origin, and truly should have no place in American art. While not all media of social or political protest, all are instruments and weapons of destruction...surrealism aims to destroy by the denial of reason.
    • George Dondero, "Modern Art Shackled to Communism" Speech, 1949. Cited in Herschel Browning Chipp, Theories of Modern Art. University of California Press, 1968 (p.497). Also cited in Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters. The New Press, 2013.
  • Breton's Surrealists wanted to place themselves outside. What is it what they want to put outside? Pure thought. That is, the only metaphysical world, reflection. But from a materialistic standpoint thought is a reflection of matter — as in a mirror. The metaphysical world is not able to surmount the material world which produces it. One has to think of SOMETHING. But for thought to be dialectical, it's object / it's 'thing' must cease to be attached to everyday life.
    • Asger Jorn in 'Discours aux pingouins' (Speech to the Penguins), Cobra 1 (1949)
  • The basic function of thought is to find ways of satisfying our needs and desires. The Surrealism of Breton and the functionalism of architecture which was more concerned with the way in which thought functions rather than with its function, — was initially idealistic. But is this not something which we can extract from Breton's definition of automatism?
    • Asger Jorn in 'Discours aux pingouins' (Speech to the Penguins), Cobra 1 (1949)
  • In contrast to Breton we believe that — behind the false ethical and aesthetic, indeed metaphysical understandings which are out of contact with the vital interest of 'man' — we find the real, the materialistic ethics and aesthetics. One includes our needs, the other is an expression of our sensual desires. It is exactly in order to liberate the true ethics and the true aesthetics that we make use of 'automatism.'
    • Asger Jorn in 'Discours aux pingouins' (Speech to the Penguins), Cobra 1 (1949)
  • Modern psychology has revealed.. ..the symbolic significance of much of the imagery we customarily find in dreams and in works of the imagination. To a great extent Surréalisme derives from this branch of modern psychology: at least,it finds its justification in it. It seeks deliberately to create valid symbols, and the work of a Surréaliste like Max Ernst will make use of both abstract and concrete symbols.
    • Herbert Read, 'Max Ernst', in The Meaning Of Art, London, 1949.


  • I mean, the official definition of Surrealism is to make a work automatically without a priori aesthetic or moral conditions, which is exactly what we do [artist in New York School / Abstract Expressionism]. At the same time Surrealism was an assault, — with a few exceptions: Giacometti, Arp and Miro — on the 'purity' of painting. I mean mean, on making painting — means themselves speak, without reliance on literature; and that second insistence of Surrealism, Americans really rejected. So that historically. … Abstract Expressionism is in part, I think, a fusion of certain Surrealist means, above all plastic 'automatism' with the Cubist's insistence that the picture speaks as a picture in strictly pictorial language.
    • Robert Motherwell, in an interview (March 1960) with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Metro', 1962; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 82
  • Surrealism in its early period offered specific methods to bring images closer to concrete irrationality. These methods, based on the exclusive passive and receptive role of the 'surrealist subject', are bankrupt and are giving way to new surrealist methods for the systematic exploration of the irrational. … The new delirious images of concrete irrationality suggest their physical, real 'possibility'; they go beyond the domain of psycho-analysable fantasies and 'virtual' representations. … Against the dream memory and impossible, virtual images of purely receptive states that one can only recount, the physical facts of 'objective' irrationality with which one can already hurt oneself.
    • Salvador Dali in Diary of a Genius (1964), Salvador Dali — on new Surrealism techniques and methods, p. 23
  • I categorically refused to consider the Surrealists as just another literary and artistic group. I believed they were capable of liberating man from the tyranny of the 'practical, rational world.' I was going to become the w:Nietzsche of the irrational. I, the obsessed rationalist, was the only one who knew what I wanted: I was not going to submit to irrationality for its own sake, to the narcissist and passive irrationality others practiced. I would do completely the opposite. I would fight for the 'conquest of the irrational'.
  • The transformation of Surrealist automatic techniques in America (circa 1943) took various forms, but is fundamentally a change from graphic to full scale painterly procedures. To the Surrealists, speed was a way of getting the hand out of control, free of conscious guidance, and the results were interpreted as evidence of the unconscious mind. In American painting, on the other hand, speed was combined with responsiveness to the rapidly emerging.. ..painting—so that the picture became a field of running decisions rather than a spontaneous confession. Pollock and Motherwell, in different ways, developed direct gesture and pictorial consistency on a large scale, while holding to the idea of speed. Baziotes, on the other hand, represents what might seem, if impulsive and athletic improvisation is taken as a canon, the paradox of slow automatism.
    • Lawrence Alloway in his text for 'The Baziotes Memorial Exhibition' and its accompanying catalogue; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1965, pp. 12, 13
  • Andre Masson's book Anatomy of My L'Universe, published in English in 1943, summarizes some of the assumptions of late Surrealism about art and nature which are relevant to American artists like Baziotes. 'I admired the fraternity of the natural kingdoms' and 'there is nothing inanimate in the world.' Masson declared. Of one of his expository cosmological drawings, he wrote a description: 'The Genius of the Species. Blason of the Darwinian epic. Totem of triumphant biology.' w:BiomorphismBiomorphism]] is part of an exchange program between the human and the non-human. The contours of the human image are exceeded or invaded, so that vitality is not confined within the human skin but proliferates everywhere.
    • Lawrence Alloway in his text for 'The Baziotes Memorial Exhibition' and its accompanying catalogue; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum 1965, p. 13
  • Dadaism and Surrealism.. ..represented the intoxication of total license, the intoxication in which the mind wallows when it has made a clean sweep of value and surrendered to the immediate. The good is the pole towards which the human spirit is necessarily oriented, not only in action but in every effort, including the effort of pure intelligence. The surrealists have set up non-oriented thought as a model; they have chosen the total absence of value as their supreme value. Men have always been intoxicated by license, which is why, throughout history, towns have been sacked. But there has not always been a literary equivalent for the sacking of towns. Surrealism is such an equivalent.
    • Simone Weil, The responsibility of writers, in On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, R. Rees, trans. (1968), p. 167


  • I am Surrealism.
    • Salvador Dalí, as quoted in Salvador Dali : Master of Surrealism and Modern Art (1971) by George Cevasco, p. 13
  • Shit scared them [the Surrealists]. Shit and arsholes. Yet, what was more human and more needful of transcending! From that moment, I know I would keep on obsessing them with what they most dreaded. And when I invented Surrealist objects, I had the deep inner fulfillment of knowing, while the [Surrealist] group went into ecstasies over their operation, that these objects very exactly reproduced the contradictions of a rectal sphincter at work, so that what they were thus admiring was their own fear.
    • Quote by Salvador Dalí in Comment on deviant Dali, les aveux inavouables de Salvador Dali, André Parinaud (1973); as quoted in The Unspeakable confessions of Salvador Dali, Parinaud, ed. W. H. Allen, London 1976, p. 113


  • I don't regard myself as a Surrealist in the sense of the "Surrealist Manifesto" published by Andre Breton in 1924. To me, that Manifesto is somewhat dated, being a recoil from World War I, and being too heavily Freudian. My own unconscious is more Jungian than Freudian. But if Breton hadn't staked claim to the name, I would probably call myself a Surrealist in the "Remembrance of Things Within" sense, but not in the "world of dream and fantasy joined to the everyday rational world, becoming 'an absolute reality, a surreality'." I suppose that I believe in another sort of a surreality or super-reality, but it would have to be on a wider basis than the encounters of myself and me. As often as not, it is the subconscious that supplies the rational element, and the exterior world that supplies the dream and fantasy feeling.
  •   Encyclopedic article on Surrealism on Wikipedia
  •   Media related to Surrealism on Wikimedia Commons
  •   The dictionary definition of surrealism on Wiktionary
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