Surrealism was first defined by poet André Breton in his Surrealist Manifesto. Breton said Surrealism is "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." Essentially Breton was challenging artists to forget about reason and tap into their unconscious mind to unlock their imagination of what something could be instead of what it is.  Surrealism was both an artistic and literary movement with a goal of liberating thought and free the human experience from "the oppressive boundaries of rationalism."

Did you know?
Dali used several different reoccurring symbols in his paintings such as angels, crutches, elephants, ants, and bread. At first these seem unrelated, but if you explore them deeper you can see that each one was purposely included to bring deeper meaning to the painting and represent thoughts that Dali had as he painted. Read more about Dali and the symbolism in his works here:

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Below is some basic information on Surrealism and its characteristics and influences. If you would like to print off a copy of this page along with samples of art from this period, you can download the Surrealism summary above.

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali

Dali is one of the most famous Surrealist artists. Known for expressing dreams and hallucinations, he was obsessed with the themes of eroticism, death, and decay. Swans Reflecting Elephants, pictured here, is from his paranoiaccritical method that used optical illusions to create dual images.

René Magritte
René Magritte

The Son of Man is perhaps René Magritte’s most famous painting. It is said that the painting was a self portrait. His work often evoked mystery. He challenged human perception and forced the viewer to reconsider what they would normally think.

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

Kahlo was an influential female artist of German-Mexican decent who made it acceptable for women to display emotion and feel sadness without being looked at as crazy or depressed. She worked, almost obsessively, with self-portraits as she explored her divided role as an artist, lover, and wife.

Quick Facts:
  • Movement was defined by Andre Breton in his Surrealist Manifesto

  • Artists believed that the rational mind suppressed expression and creativity

Characteristics and/or Types of Art:
  • Art represented the unconscious mind or dream state

  • Challenged traditional thinking; forced the viewer outside
    of their comfort zone

  • Sigmund Freud dream theories

  • Psychoanalysis