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Surrealism

In a revolution against a society ruled by rational thought, the Surrealists tapped into the “superior reality” of the subconscious.


Tapping the Subconscious: Automatism and Dreams

Discover how Surrealist artists tapped the creative potential of the subconscious mind.


Surrealist Objects and Assemblage

Discover how everyday objects, arranged unexpectedly, became triggers for unlocking the subconscious mind.


Surrealism and the Body

See how the Surrealists explored the human form and hidden desires.


Surrealist Landscapes

Discover how Surrealists explored the terrain of the subconscious mind in landscape paintings.


Landscapes—images of natural scenery—remained a popular subject at the height of the Surrealist movement in the 1920s. In the decades preceding Surrealism, the genre had undergone radical transformations as artists broke free from straight representational landscapes, using non-naturalistic colors and experimental paint applications. Despite these innovations, most painters continued to paint from the natural world.

Surrealist landscapes tapped into a different source for imagery: the subconscious mind. The landscapes shown here reflect the uncanny, sometimes elusive imagery of dreams, myth, and fantasy. At times lacking recognizable geological elements such as mountains, hills, or vistas, these works confound traditional expectations of the landscape genre, and propose that the interior world of the psyche is as complex and ripe for exploration as the world beyond our bodies.

A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.

The part of the mind below the level of conscious perception. The Surrealists derived much inspiration from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s theories on dreams and the workings of the subconscious mind.

A combination of pigment, binder, and solvent.

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

A state of mind or emotion, a pervading impression.

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

A new invention or idea.

A category of artistic practice having a particular form, content, or technique.

The perceived hue of an object, produced by the manner in which it reflects or emits light into the eye. Also, a substance, such as a dye, pigment, or paint, that imparts a hue.

Questions & Activities

  1. Postcards from Paintings

    Look at The Hunter (Catalan Landscape), The Persistence of Memory, and Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale. Imagine what it would be like to spend a day in each of these landscapes.

    Write “postcards” from each of the three locations. The postcards should include both a description of the places shown in the images and a description of the mood that is created by each location.

  2. Keep a Dream Journal

    Keep a dream journal for one week, writing down any images or scenes that you remember upon waking. Do any of the images from your dreams resemble real locations you have visited in the past? Do you understand the significance of these locations? At the end of the week, pick an image or scene from one of your dreams to write about further or to incorporate into a work of art.