Many Surrealists produced objects and images with an insistently erotic dimension. This was driven, in part, by their interests in Freudian psychology and so-called “primitive” non-Western art, which they presumed to be untainted by modernist rationalism. Though these explorations of the human figure had a long tradition in the history of art, Surrealists went further, breaking taboos and shocking viewers in their depiction of mutilated, dismembered, or distorted bodies. In the 1930s, such visions may have had particular resonance given the still-pervasive sight of World War I veterans—many left limbless or using prosthetics—and the specter of a second World War on the horizon.
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An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.
Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.
Questions & Activities
Shake-N-Make a Creature
Create your own creature using the laws of chance. Gather a variety of images of living things (humans, plants, and animals) from magazines or newspapers.
Cut out arms, legs, heads, eyes, tails, wings, and other body parts. Put them inside a bag and shake them up. Without looking into the bag, pull out body parts until you’ve assembled a life-like figure. Paste your composite being to a piece of paper.
Give your creature a name. Is it more humanoid, or more plant- or animal-like?