Surrealism. (Classroom Use)

By Hubbard, Guy | Arts & Activities, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Surrealism. (Classroom Use)


Hubbard, Guy, Arts & Activities


THINGS TO LEARN

* Surrealism is about the liberation of the imagination from what most people believe is normal and reasonable. Instead of trying to show the real world, Surrealist artists create fantasies. It is not like other art movements, such as Impressionism and Cubism, where the styles are recognizable. Surrealistic artworks are based on dreamlike ideas that began in the artist's unconscious thoughts. For this reason, the personal styles of Surrealist artists are not at all alike. But because of the choice of dreamlike subjects it is usually easy to identify.

* After the horrors of World War I, many young European artists rejected all earlier kinds of art, especially the kinds that glorified the importance of individual nations. They believed that nationalism was one of the main causes of "The Great War" that killed millions of people.

To show their contempt for traditional art, some of these artists invented "Dadaism." They deliberately made things that made no sense. After a few years, Dada was replaced by the dreamlike ideas of Surrealism, which continues to the present day. Surrealism began in 1924 and became important in theater, music, literature, philosophy and politics, as well as the visual arts.

* The mystical ideas of Surrealist painters were inspired by such 19th-century French artists as Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. Music by the German composer, Richard Wagner, and the writings of the American, Edgar Allen Poe, were also influential. In addition, Joseph Cornell was inspired by the ideas of several French writers.

* Some of the more important European Surrealists were French (Yves Tanguy and Marcel Duchamp), German (Max Ernst), Spanish (Salvador Dali and Joan Miro), Italian (Giorgio de Chirico) and Belgian (Rene Magritte).

The work of Tanguy and Duchamp was cold and impersonal, while Ernst's was very passionate. Dali distorted realistic figures in strange ways. Miro preferred entirely abstract shapes. Magritte's work was just as different: He showed realistic objects in very contradictory arrangements.

The more important American Surrealist artists were Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radinsky), Joseph Cornell, Kay Sage, Peter Blume, John Wilde and William Baziotes. Mostly, Man Ray made unusual photographs, while Kay Sage's paintings were clean, totally abstract dreams. John Wilde fitted objects and people into spaces that normally would be impossible. Peter Blume showed highly realistic images in fantastic landscapes, and William Baziotes painted ghostly creatures suspended in space. An example of Joseph Cornell's work is reproduced here.

THINGS TO DO

* In order for students to develop a clear understanding of Surrealism, they need to become familiar with as many examples as possible. Fortunately, the popularity of Surrealism continues to this day and every library in the country is likely to have at least one book on these artists in its collection.

The first goal is to become familiar with what Surrealist art looks like. They all share similar subject matter but the artist's styles are all different. …

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