Critically assess the importance of your chosen art movement
Art movements are a new style or type of art which become popular and important between artists during a period. The oldest forms of art date back to as early as 350,000 BCE. Since then many art movements have come and gone such as Surrealism which was one of the most important movements for its time. Surrealism became a popular concept during the early 1920’s. Being the first of its genre many people were conflicted by the idea, with some not accepting its importance at all. With Surrealism now recognised as a breakthrough in the art world it is worth discussing the significant impacts it had on art and literature in its time.
The name Surrealism is given to the cultural movement in which visual arts and literature adopt surreal, dreamlike styles. It is said that the word ‘Surrealist’ was first used by Guillaume Apollinaire in a 1917 to describe a play written by Jean Cocteau, however Surrealism as a movement was founded by poet André Breton in Paris, 1924, with the goal of it becoming a “revolutionary movement capable of unleashing the mind”. However, others state it was in fact Giorgio de Chirico as who began the Surrealist style in 1917, painting streets with hallucinatory art (HISTORY.com, 2018). The surrealist movement was highly influenced by the Dada movement which began in New York 1916 and carried through into the 20’s in Paris. Dada was a negative reaction to the first world war and began to hint at some surrealist styles, without being classed as surrealism itself.
Before 1916 art consisted of realist concepts and expressive shapes and colours, everything sticking within a strict rule of realism. The Enlightenment movement in the 17th and 18th century is said to have supressed the main qualities of Surrealism. So, when Breton introduced his idea of art from the unconscious mind people were divided. (Jon Mann, 2016). However, artists such as Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte, who were already known for their skilful paintings, flew with the strange new concept and began working on new art works forcing the world to become more accepting of it presence.
In 1927, artist Rene Magritte moved from Brussels to Paris almost instantly becoming a major figure in the surrealist movement earning his fame through his erotically explicit paintings, he was massively influenced by Chirico’s work in the 1910’s. Having lived through both world wars and had a mother whom committed suicide as his young age of 13, Magritte’s work was bound to be described as ‘morbid’. At first, he was completely thrilled and taken with Chirico’s ideas of surrealism however, they began to prove too dogmatic for him and he eventually moved back to Brussels with his wife (ReneMagritte.org, ND). Many similarities to Gorgio de Chirico’s work can be seen in Magritte’s surrealist pieces which mainly consist of a few familiar objects, usually people, juxtaposed in dreamlike surroundings connecting the visual automatism and illusionistic surrealism practiced by Salvador Dali.
Dali is one of the most important artists to have worked during this time producing some of the most famous surrealist paintings and sculptures in the world. ‘The Persistence of Memory’ is a 1931 painting by Dali which shows melting clocks scattered across a beach with ants crawling over them which seems dreamlike and illogical as the objects are familiar, but they are painted in an unfamiliar way and placed in an unusual setting. This is not only one of the most recognised pieces of the surrealist movement, causing drastic out lash and controversy, but it is also one of Dali’s most famous paintings of his working life. He was known widely for his wild art, loud personality and interest in what could be revealed by his dreams, which helped him stand out from all the other surrealists. Dali remains to this day one of the most controversial and paradoxical artists of the twentieth century.
The main concept in surrealist art is the expression of the unconscious mind displaying an unnerving or illogical scene which can be displayed in two creative ways. The viewer of a surrealist artwork is first confronted by words or pictures that make complete sense but are depicted in unfamiliar or unrealistic settings or ways. It is the contradiction between an object like a teapot being visually personified that makes viewers unnerved and surprised by the illogical scene. As carried out by Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. An opposing idea of surrealism is when a viewer is confronted by abstract shapes and colours which are suggestive but indefinite, there are no certain familiar objects or settings however the shapes might suggest scenes which may be familiar. This approach was carried out by artists such as Max Ernst, and Joan Miró (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018). Ernst and Mir? were well known German and Spanish artists who helped to pioneer the surrealist movement.
The movement was massively influential for its time because no one had ever tried to tap into the deepest parts of their minds to produce creative outcomes. The French were completely shocked and taken aback by the announcement of Surrealism mostly because they didn’t understand it or why and how it was such an interesting topic to the founders. Breton, being the main figure at this time, was inexplicably dumbfound by his invention which intrigued others, both artists and non-artists. The confusion of the topic is what initially led to its insane popularity however once people realised how dark and philosophical this art could be people began to understand the need for it. Artist after artist began migrating to Paris to practice the style, learning from Breton and exercising their own ideas. It did not take long for surrealism to become a huge revolutionary movement.
The main two areas in which surrealism could be found were art and literature. Despite now being ruled as artists, surrealist authors in the twenties refused to associate themselves with the visual artists of the style as they did not believe that they were on the same level of surrealism. Many people considered literature to be better able to dive into the unconscious mind than visual art. However, after Magritte, Dali and more Dadaist artists entered the style, visual arts soon became the primary form of expression for surrealism (Anirudh, 2017). With the world still recovering from the destruction of the first world war, surrealism was an exciting escape for people. It wasn’t just an artistic movement, it was a whole new philosophy to the artists who practiced it. It was a revolution in the creative world. Embracing the ‘Super real’ was very radical for the time and was a reaction to the horrors of World War One. Surrealists used the arts to escape reality, tapping into the deep parts of their imagination, disdaining rationalism and realism. The visual artists carried the surrealism movement into the new world.
As a reaction to surrealism, artists became more spontaneous with their work which led to abstract expressionism becoming popular in the 1940’s, which became another majorly important art movement. Abstract expressionism was a movement in which American artists would depict forms not from the visible world and emphasize spontaneity and personal emotional expression. This movement was inspired by the surrealists, taking similar concepts from Max Ernst, and Joan Miró’s work in the twenties.
Surrealism today is a much more accepted and appreciated type of art, the style is used by mostly contemporary artists and can be taken to a whole new level. Executive creative director at M;C Saatchi, says “When a creative team is stuck, the book they always go to is the Magritte book”. The works of the original surrealist artists still inspire many modern surrealists today such as American born, Inka Essenhigh and Canadian Rob Gonsalves. (Kate Nettleton, 2009)
Essenhigh is a modern surrealist artist with a fluid, dreamlike style. Her work is usually the result of automatic drawing and free association and can often be associated with Pop Surrealism which can be explained as a mix between Pop art and Surrealism. It is a modern take on the 1920’s movement. The two styles still very much take most influence from the minds and dreams of the artists minds, however pop surrealism is usually more ‘animated’, using blocks of colours and thick black outlines as seen in Pop Art. Gonsalves however, is a much more contemporary artist, taking vast inspiration from 1920’s Salvador Dali. Gonsalves creates illusionistic paintings combining everyday activities with hallucinatory effects. For example, his most famous piece of work is a row of ships on the sea in which the flags fade into clouds and the ships bodies turn into arches on a bridge. His images contain dual representations of reality, with his artistry forming at the intersection between fantasy and nonfiction.
Each artists work is a new, unique twists of Bretons original depiction on the topic. They all individually present viewers with a number of observations so vivid in concentration that we need to tap into our own fears. Surrealism for some however, has taken a step backwards for example chairman of Fallon, Laurence Green says, “In our world, to say something is surrealist is flimsy and flaky because if you say, ‘we’re surrealists’, it’s like saying we’re fine artists. The word suggests a work of art that is unique and challenging but not necessarily effective” (Kate Nettleton, 2009). This implies that Green does not believe surrealist artists have a sense if individuality anymore. The most used definition of Surrealism is “A literary and art movement, dedicated to expressing the imagination as revealed in dreams, free of the conscious control of reason and convention”. Many people today believe that most alleged “surrealist” work does not relate to or even evolve from this definition. However, some people would argue that even though this may be true, the works of a real artist are unique and original and do not follow rules or definitions.
A modern writer Lee Ballentine said “Surrealism is neither literature nor art. It is a revolution of the mind, a completely different way of thinking”. This quote alone is proof of the importance of the surrealist movement. In the eyes of visual and literary artists the surrealist movement was a huge breakthrough in the creative world. It gave people the means to tell their stories in a beautiful way, it allowed troubled people to express their thoughts and feelings without speaking out loud by diving into the deepest parts of their minds, making Surrealism one of the most important creative movements of all time. Surrealism is a part of art history that will always stretch the minds of artists and viewers and continue to bring controversy to the creative world.