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Art Movements in Art History - Surrealist Artists

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Surrealist Artists*


Arp belonged to both the Dada and Surrealist movements and his work did not alter
substantially when he changed allegiance. The issue then emerges of where that difference
may lie. The suggestion has been made that it lies in the titles he appended to his works.

Both Arp and Magritte have claimed to interpret their work by means of a title after its
completion. Now, although Arp's work tends to show such a close correspondence between
poetic verbal concepts and evocative visual images that it becomes extremely difficult to
isolate the primary impulse, the generation of the word by the image is discernible in some
cases. A favourite word used by Arp in both his writing and his titles, and which is also
translated into plastic forms, is the "navel" or le nombril (French). Un nombril (a navel)
has the same pronunciation as un ombril, a nonexistent French word which however
suggests un ombre (a shadow) and une ombrelle (a parasol or sunshade). This
reconstruction of Arp's "word-cultivating" is supported by his insistence
that the word nombril should be conjugated thus: un nombril, des ombrills (instead of des
nombrils) and by a mural entitled Navel-sun. Here the form
of a navel suggests a sun with an aureole of light around it and is placed against a darker
background which may be interpreted as shadow. For his sculptures, too, Arp used
suggestive titles.


Veristic Surrealism, exemplified by Dali, Magritte, Tanguy and Delvaux, was so influenced
by the work of De Chirico that this person has often been taken for a Surrealist himself.
However, De Chirico's important canvases were painted between 1911 and 1917 quite
independently of any influence from artists who were later involved in Surrealism.

In History of modern painting Read describes the peculiar quality of
his townscapes thus:

Sometimes the horizon is defined by a wall behind which rises the noise of a
disappearing train. The whole nostalgia of the infinite is revealed to us behind the
geometric precision of the square. We experience the most unforgettable movements
when certain aspects of the world, whose existence we completely ignore, suddenly
confront us with the revelation of mysteries lying all the time within our reach and
which we cannot see because we are too short-sighted, and cannot feel because our
senses are inadequately developed.

This interpretation can be applied to the following images in De Chirico's work:
the train behind the wall

arcades and arches, rocks, statues, porticos, towers, elongated shadows, tiny human figures
mannequins, tailor's dummies, perspectival distortions

as well as to less tangible qualities: immobility, silence, poetic juxtapositions


The most central problems in the study of Dali's work are the extent to which he is an
illustrator of psychoanalytical ideas and the barrier to communication which results from
this approach. Dali wrote about many crucial early experiences in his autobiography, The
secret life of Salvador Dali, both perhaps as a form of psychoanalysis and to provide clues,
in a self-conscious way, to his complex imagery. Dali's "paranoic-critical" method (in which
one thing is seen in terms of another) was developed in 1929 and again appears a conscious
exploitation of psychoanalytical ideas. Nevertheless, Breton welcomed Dali to Surrealism in
1929 with open arms and claimed, "it is perhaps with Dali that all the great mental windows
are opening." The relationship between Dali and the Surrealists lasted until about 1937 to
1938 when Breton finally repudiated him.


Ernst cultivated his childhood memories as a source of inspiration for his Surrealist works
too. And he also seems to have been aware of both Freudian and Jungian symbolism (see
Oedipus Rex, 1922 and the Forest series of the 1930s). Ernst also developed specific
techniques such as frottage for exploring automatism; and he also experimented with photo-
montage and collage from 1920. Ernst also produced a body of sculptures during the 1940s
which have been accepted as Surrealist.


Miro and Masson lived in close proximity from 1922 and shared many common aims, one of
which was to transcend the Cubist influence on their work. Miro said of the Cubists, "I will
break their guitar", while Masson observed rather more violently, "I will seize the knife
immobilized on the Cubist table". Both expressed the desire to be "painter-poets".


Automatism provided an entry point into Surrealism for Miro, although he asserted that the
first stage of his painting process was spontaneous and often provoked by a shock: some
irregularity in the material of the canvas or an accidental blob. The second stage on the other
hand was carefully structured, and images appeared.

Miro produced a highly complex iconography. Any analysis gives rise to problems
because of the distance travelled by the image from its original source as it is transformed
into a "sign". The poetic and often illogical character of this transformation increases the
difficulty of tracing the meaning of what appear to be semi-abstract signs. Miro spoke in this
connection to Rubin and called the process of transformation and translation of images
throughout his oeuvre "the alchemy of the picture".


Picasso described what meaning the word "surrealism" held for him thus:

"I insist upon a likeness, a more profound likeness, more real than the real, achieving the
surreal. This is the way I understood Surrealism, but the word had been used quite

Clearly this is different from the more conventional use of the word. Picasso however
never aligned himself completely with the movement although Breton claimed him as a

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* Drawn from notes compiled by R. Becker / C. Rey for the University of South Africa | Contact Us | List Your Art | List Your Art Gallery | Site Map

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