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What is Surrealism in art and cinema? 

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Surrealism is one of the most influential movements in cultural history. You can see its impact in art, literature, politics, philosophy, and even social theory. Let’s take a look at Surrealism’s history, concepts, and some iconic works in art and cinema.

The concept of surrealism

What is Surrealism?

The Surrealist Manifestos, two documents written in 1924 and 1929, features the definition of Surrealism as observed by Andre Breton, the leader of the Surrealist movement. As per the published documents, Surrealism is a pure state of mind, where you can express thoughts with utter freedom. Such thoughts don't need to adhere to rational or societal rules.

The movement, founded by the French poet, aims to introduce very free and open concepts that make surrealists more aware of their feelings, thoughts, and being without the influence of anyone or anything. Instead of looking at the outside world for inspiration, people are encouraged to look into the subconscious.

Sigmund Freud’s work, The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, is a major influence for surrealists. He emphasized the importance of dreams and the unconscious mind, saying that they’re legit and valid. Freud’s psychoanalysis became the theoretical basis for most Surrealism concepts.

What is Surreal art?

Surrealism is most recognizable in visual art. Surrealist artists create pieces that feature the strange beauty of their own uncanny and unconventional thoughts and feelings. Some artists used surrealist art as an escape from the reality of war, while some expressed their opinion through it. Although if you look at surrealistic art, the concepts are still quite difficult to categorize and define. Some put into images what their minds and hearts are unable to express in words or actions, maybe because those are outlandish or perplexing to what is considered normal.

surreal image of woman and blacks balloons flying

It’s important to point out that Surrealism is different from non-representational art, since surrealist works still feature recognizable people, objects, and events. Some works even feature realistic images. However, it’s common to see different ideas, elements, and even styles in one piece, all put together even when there are no moral or logical strings that connect each with the other.

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What is Surrealism in cinema?

Surrealist cinema pushes its viewers towards a world that’s unknown to the conscious mind. Films under this cultural movement replicate dreams and nightmares where characters and experiences are free from logical or moral limitations. 

Often the plot or story is all over the place. The sequence may have no evident logic. Scenes used in parallel editing may not even blatantly associate or interact with each other. Jump cuts are often utilized to shock or awaken viewers, or to give them something to think about.

Key concepts of Surrealism

Because Surrealism encourages the freedom to express thoughts and feelings that otherwise only exist in a person’s inner being, it can be challenging to establish a fixed set of specific traits among surrealistic works. But there are key ideas that are somehow similar among them.

Automatism is a creative process where the artist avoids or suppresses control over his work. Whatever comes to his mind or whatever he feels at the moment, he expresses in his work. Freud often uses automatic writing or drawing to tap into the subconscious of people.

Surrealists enjoy associating distinct elements with one another, even if there’s no obvious association between them. Like a rabbit’s head on a little girl’s body, a donkey playing the piano, or a knife cutting through the clouds. Such images feature two key surrealistic ideas: Association and irrationality.

Dreams and fantasies are popular themes of surrealist works. Have you ever woken up from a dream that featured familiar people, objects, or events but together doesn’t make sense at all? That’s what Surrealism aims to express. Have you ever wished there’s a portable stairway to the sky so you can eat cotton candy clouds while the rainbow gave you a massage? Weird as it is, in Surrealism, there’s no limit to the power of your imagination.

Tapping into the unconscious and turning any fear, anxiety, or apprehension into something creative is also a notable concept of Surrealism. Putting them into images or words helps channel them, giving surrealists an opportunity to understand or overcome it, or to simply let it out of their system.

Icons of surrealistic art: Dali, Kahlo and Picasso

One of the leading advocates of Surrealism is Salvador Dali, a Spanish artist who is popular for his strange, dream-like works like The Accommodations of Desire (1929) and The Persistence of Memory (1931), popular for its melting clocks. He was also a writer and filmmaker.

Another popular surrealist, Frida Kahlo is famous for her otherworldly self-portraits. Her works are strongly influenced by her personal and political views. She wrote that she paints her own reality and that she paints whatever passes through her head. No restrictions. No considerations to the norm.

Pablo Picasso is known for his unique art pieces that fall under a variety of artistic disciplines. Although he’s not a pure surrealist, he created one masterpiece that has Surrealism written all over it.

Icon of Surrealism, Guernica

Guernica is Picasso’s demonstration of his anger against a war with Guernica, a town somewhere in the northern part of Spain. This mural-sized piece features black, white, and gray images of distorted faces, abnormal human features, animal figures, all in surreal forms, was viewed by millions of people at the Paris World’s Fair.

In literature, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is the perfect example of written Surrealism. Although he has written and sold several novels and short stories in Japan and all over the world, critics are still divided when it comes to his storytelling approach.

His works feature engaging but strange stories, idiosyncratic revelations, and memorable characters. Some are suspenseful, often ending abruptly and leaving readers to concoct a magical ending of their own. 

Channel your imagination into videos

If you found this interesting and informative, check out Clipchamp’s glossary and learn more about basic and advanced video production and video editing techniques.

Want to express your thoughts and feelings in surrealistic ways through videos? Turn your dreams and fantastical ideas into reality by signing up to Clipchamp’s online video editor for free.

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