Eros in the Mind's Eye: Sexuality and the Fantastic in Art and Film

By Donald Palumbo | Go to book overview

5
Sex in Surrealist Art

FRANCINE A. KOSLOW

Surrealism began as a literary movement in Paris in 1924, when poet André Breton ( 1896-1966) published his First Manifesto of Surrealism. Breton, a former student of psychiatry, defined the movement as "dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern."1 Surrealism, as defined by Breton, was based on belief in the omnipotence of dreams and the unconscious. The active collaboration between surrealist artists and literary figures that followed Breton's manifesto resulted in visual works that deal with hitherto unexplored phenomena, including enigmatic sexual fantasies. Eroticism in art has been around since prehistory. Fertility goddesses and Greek phalluses were common early art objects. Yet these images were extensions, however explicit or exaggerated, of objects in the real physical world. Surrealists deal specifically with distortions and the irrational. Their eroticism, however explicit, explored subconscious, uncontrolled realms, bizarre domains that were almost uninvestigated prior to the advent of Freudian psychology.

The surrealist painters and poets centered their activities in the late 1920s around Paris and Breton. Their art was based on humor, subversion, and dream. Confronting a postwar world of disintegrating social, cultural, and economic mores, the sur-

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