Surrealism as a Cultural Movement

Known primarily through paintings and prose writings, surrealism was one of the most important cultural movements in the 1920s. Its goal was to bring together the worlds of reality and dreams into a single unity which had a bizarre logic of its own. For example, painters used the techniques of realism to portray impossible situations that defied the laws of physics.

Various Techniques

a. Writers used automatic techniques to construct their work, or cut out different pieces of text and reassembled them in bizarre or illogical ways.

b. The technique of the collage was very important in surrealism. The idea of creating unique, new objects by juxtaposing unexpected items was another important technique used by Surrealists.

c. Non sequiturs and unexpected connections were a major goal of the Surrealist movement. However, the movement was not just intended to evoke certain feelings of surprise or alarm in the audience. Instead, the goal was to create a revolutionary change in society through the use of these artistic techniques. Revolution was the endpoint of Surrealism, as expressed by the major figure, Andre Breton.

female in metamorphosis with nature


Like many movements in modern culture, surrealism emerged from the chaos of the First World War. This conflict overturned many of the cultural assumptions, particularly Europe. Ideas which seemed fixed and unquestionable were now seen as arbitrary and oppressive. Many young people, disillusioned by the bloody toll of the war, sought to find new ways to express themselves and place order in society.

The Dada Movement

The immediate predecessor of surrealism was the Dada movement. It was focused in Paris, it quickly spread around the world, finding followers in many countries. Surrealism was not just a movement of the visual arts, it also found expression in poetry, film, sculpture, and even philosophy.

Dada was a movement which believed that the origins of the First World War lay in excessive rationality and the values of the bourgeoisie. Followers protested the war, not through conventional means, but through gatherings and performances intended to attack these values. When the war ended, prominent Dada leaders returned to Paris and continued their expressions.

Vital Components of Surrealism

Dreams and the unconscious were vital components of surrealism. The Surrealists often believed that deeper truths were to be found in dreams. Freeing the unconscious mind and letting it express itself would be a way of cutting through the deadening surface of the rational world. Many Surrealists valued insanity, and looked up to the writings of the insane, as a model for their own work.

Often, there were alliances between Surrealism and radical political movements, such as anarchism and communism. Surrealists often attacked the conventions of bourgeois culture, seeking to reveal the fundamental arbitrariness of human life. They wanted to help free people from these restrictions, so they could express their true natures.

While Surrealism is no longer a vital cultural movement, its influence lives on. Many artists today still make use of Surrealistic ideas and techniques.