La trahison des images by René Magritte (1929)


“Surrealism is sheer psychological automatism, by means of which it is intended to express verbally, in writing or in some other way, the actual function of thinking, without control exercised by reason, outside any aesthetic or morel prejudice.”  (André  Breton , 1924  — from Schmeller, Surrealism p.8.[i]  Read excerpts from the Surrealist Manifesto


background:  ARCIMBOLDO

Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor painted as Vertumnus, the Roman god of the seasons, c. 1590–91.


Among the inspirations from the arts. André  Breton[1] identified Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a successful artist in the Habsburg courts of Maximilian II and Rudolf II in the later 16th century. Arcimboldo was best known for his “composite heads”—faces composed of fruits, vegetables, fish, flowers, and beasts of all kinds. 

Watch Arcimboldo: Nature and Fantasy, a National Gallery video that traces his career and “explores the connection between his paintings and the burgeoning natural sciences, the voyages of discovery, and the atmosphere of intellectual curiosity at the courts of Europe.” 


Arcimboldo is among those artists whose intuitive understanding of uncommon details of human perception enabled exploitation of our powerful disposition for face pareidolia and the resolution of dissonance or ambiguity [and see A&O notes on Ambiguity and Pareidolia






THE PSYCHOLOGICAL “PURITY” OF SURREALISM.  The surrealists were deeply influenced by Freud’s insights about the purity of dreams compared to how contaminated they become as remembered through the lenses of cultural and social biases.   Thus dreams before processing by the socialized mind were true, precultural thoughts, and that is what they wanted to represent.  As peculiar and distorted as their art may seem to our cultured eyes (and ears), it was thought to be a more genuine expression of the contents of mind.


 After meeting in the summer of 1938, “Dali thought his meeting with Freud a failure, but days later, Freud wrote Stefan Zweig:  I really have reason to thank you for the introduction which brought me yesterday’s visitors. For until then I was inclined to look upon the surrealists – who have apparently chosen me as their patron saint – as absolute (let us say 95 percent, like alcohol), cranks. That young Spaniard, however, with his candid and fanatical eyes, and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion.”   (from DANGEROUS MINDS blog)


Surrealism is closely related to Stream of Consciousness (see Isra Siddig’s Blogspot entry)



[i] Interestingy, Isabella Rossolini is deeply committed to conservation efforts.  Her ““smallest circus in the world” was “a stage play exploring the ability of animals to think, was premiered in May 2018, at the Jerome Robbins Theater of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The play “addresses the scientific discoveries about animal minds, intelligence, and emotions. Joined onstage by various animals portrayed by Pan, her trained dog, Rossellini transforms herself into AristotleDescartesB.F. SkinnerCharles Darwin, and more, to deliver a vivid monologue about the brilliance of the animal kingdom”.[31]


[1] Breton claimed that their artistic antecedents were Hieronymous Bosch’s fantasy world contained in The Garden of Earthly Delights; Fransisco Goya’s Los Caprichos; Guiseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th-century double-image landscapes and portraits that revealed, upon examination to be made up of painted fruits and vegetables; and the work of the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico, whose painting was primarily a means of evoking the mysteries of the unconscious. Other influences included the work of such primitive painters as Henri Rousseau, and the drawings of children and the inmates at insane asylums.” (from Surrealism: The Search for Freedom )

[i].  Breton,  Andre. 1924.  The Surrealist Manifesto of 1924.   “Imagination alone tells me what can be.”  Cited by Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization, 1955).   A key theme in Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign were these lines by George Bernard Shaw:  “You see things; and you say `Why?` But I dream things that never were; and say `Why not?`” (spoken by the Serpent in Eden in Back to Methuselah.)