Meaning beyond real, these artworks have a dream-like quality


Melting clocks, apples on faces and lobster telephones! What on earth is going on?

You’re getting a taste of Surrealist Art. Surrealist art is connected to the Modern Art movement of Surrealism that emerged in the 20th century and changed literature, philosophy, politics, sociology, as well as art. Surrealist Art is believed to have manifested from the Dada movement.

Originating from the word surreal, meaning beyond reality, Surrealism rejected a rational vision of life in favour of one that asserted the value of the unconscious and dreams. Surrealists believed the unconscious mind existed in-between dreamland and reality. They sought ways to express the unconscious mind in order to reveal an ‘absolute’ reality.

To tap into this unconscious, Surrealist artists aimed to create art through ‘automatism’. A technique where one's output is automatic, and comes straight from ones inner psyche rather than being calculated or tempered through rational thought and reasoning. In doing so, artists could reject all conventions, including artistic, moral, and political to create dream worlds or hidden psychological tensions.


The term Surrealism was first coined by French poet, playwright, writer and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire, a Surrealist, in a play he wrote in 1903, which was only first performed in 1917. Yet, the movement was only officially defined in French poet and writer Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which was published in Paris in 1924. Fellow writers and poets Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, and Philippe Soupault who were influenced by Freudian theories of the subconscious supported the movement and sought to tap into unpremeditated forms of expression through writing, drawing, and eventually painting, sculpture, and film.

Although emerging out of the community of artists, writers, performers and philosophers in Paris, Surrealism’s rebellious notions of rejecting traditional structures spread globally and continue to have a huge effect on art today. It is from this spirit that we now understand art as the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings.

Contemporary Context:

Formally, the main characteristic of Surrealist art is dreamlike sequences comprised of objects that are juxtaposed in a nonsensical order. This can be in the medium of painting, but also in other media including sculpture, readymades or photography. Methods of creating Surrealist art include collage, decalomania, automatic writing, frottage, fumage, grattage, paranoia-criticism, and rayographs. Basically, anything that creates a surprise!

The process of creating Surrealist art is often an interesting and enjoyable pursuit. One game original Surrealist artists invented was le cadavre exquis, a game in which a poem or drawing is started by one artist, the paper is folded and passed to the next, who would add to it, and so on. Ultimately, this would create wholly unexpected juxtapositions.

Famous Examples:

Some well-known Surrealist artists include Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Rene Magritte, Max Ernst. Today, artists still explore the idea of chance and the unexpected. In fact, London-based curator Hans Ulrich Obrist is bringing back le cadavre exquis on instagram, check it out here.

These masterpieces are beyond real:

Salvador Dali (1904-1989)  The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) - The Persistence of Memory - 1931
Oil on canvas - 24.1 x 33 cm; 9 1/2 x 13"
Museum of Modern Art, New York NY
© 2018 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Man Ray (1890-1976)  Indestructible Object

Man Ray (1890-1976) - Indestructible Object - 1923, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965
Wooden metronome and photograph, black and white, on paper - 21.5 x 11.0 x 11.5 cm
Tate, London/UK- Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2000

Rene Magritte (1890-1976)  La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe))

Rene Magritte (1890-1976) - La Trahison des images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) (The Treachery of Images (This is not a pipe)) - 1929
Oil on canvas - 21.5 x 11.0 x 11.5 cm
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Purchased with funds provided by the Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Man Ray (1890-1976)  Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’ Violin)

Man Ray (1890-1976) - Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’ Violin) - 1924
Silver nitrate print with markings in pencil and Indian ink - 31 x 24.7 cm
Centre Pompidou, Paris/FR - Purchased 1993
© Man Ray Trust ARS-ADAGP

Rene Magritte (1898-1967)  Le fils de l’homme (The Son of Man)

Rene Magritte (1898-1967) - Le fils de l’homme (The Son of Man) - 1964
Oil on canvas -116 cm × 89 cm; 45.67 in × 35 in
Private Collection

Adrian Villar Rojas & Ayoung Kim  Exquisite Corpse 110

Adrian Villar Rojas & Ayoung Kim - Exquisite Corpse 110 - 2018
Via @hansulrichobrist instagram


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