The surrealist art movement began in the early 20th century. If there was ever a time to deepen our support for this form it is now.
We experience the surreal every day. Last night I dreamt that I was the Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. The night before that I dreamed I drove over a cliff & felt myself free falling & shouting, “I am dead.” When I was six, I dreamt that I was 80 & about to die.
Awake, we worry about death. Asleep, we may “experience” it.
Dreams free our subconscious from waking restrictions. In one of his most famous works, legendary photo-artist Man Ray portrayed the f-holes on a stringed instrument on the back of a nude in his original image “Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’s Violin)” (left half.) In a newer picture, right, the photographer shows that the f-holes from a cello have been swiped for such a use.
Every dream is “real” when experienced even if we tell ourselves we are dreaming. Most, in the race to orient, do not remember their dreams. They do not make sense! What reality does?
Yet, every work of art is instantly surreal. Every painting, photograph & sculpture is a changes the actual subject.
The surrealist movement mixes dreams with everyday “reality.” The goal is that of all art – to provoke feelings that surpass cognitive analysis.
Like drive-by shooters we are a nation of drive-by lookers. But, it is hard to simply glance at a surrealist image because it fails to offer an easy answer to everyone’s first question: “What is happening?”
Every surrealist painting, photograph or film offers us quickly identifiable subjects & then scrambles them. Surrealist music offers notes in sequences that we understand &, as with the work of Erik Satie, changes the predicted patterns.
We recognize that the person in my photograph (“Shower Sanctuary #2”) has removed her clothes to bathe. The rest makes no “sense.” The subject has taken charge & is taking our picture.
The shower is stopped midstream, the shower head has engulfed her head & the ceramic tiles house a gallery with a religious theme. Is this a church & is the photographer a pastor preaching something sacred to us?
Although you may turn away from such an image it will not be from boredom.
The same is true of the surrealist poets including movement co-founder Paul Eluard(1895-1952):
Rolls a cigarette of air
The mute girl talks:
It is art’s imperfection.
This impenetrable speech.
The motor car is truly launched:
Four martyrs’ heads
Roll under the wheels.
Ah! a thousand flames, a fire,
The light, a shadow!
The sun is following me.
A feather gives to a hat
A touch of lightness:
The chimney smokes.
Toward the end of his life, Eluard’s poetry wrote love in ever newer ways:
I Love You (Je t’aime)
I love you for all the women I have not known
I love you for all the time I have not lived
For the odor of the open sea and the odor of warm bread
For the snow which melts for the first flowers
For the pure animals man doesn’t frighten
I love you to love
I love you for all the women I do not love
Who reflects me if not you I see myself so little
Without you I see nothing but an extended desert
Between long ago and today
There are all those deaths that I crossed on the straw
I have not been able to pierce the wall of my mirror
I have had to learn life word by word
As one forgets
I love you for your wisdom which is not mine
I love you against everything that is but illusion
For the immortal heart that I do not possess
You believe you are doubt you are only reason
You are the great sun which makes me drunk
When I am sure of me.
The brilliant contemporary Swedish photographer Erik Johansson engages surrealism in our times (purchase his work via his web page.) Have you ever seen anything like, “Let’s Leave?” At first look, I thought of my daughter at age 4. Experiencing her preciousness I wanted to surround her with a protective bubble to shield her from the slings & arrows sure to strike her as she grew up.
That is why I love this kind of art. Life is a cacophony of shifting consciousnesses. We struggle to organize it. Rather then fight it, the surrealists embrace paradox. They invite us to accept surrealism’s apparent joke & walk further into the mystery that this art offers.
Photographs, all copyright protected and offered for educational use:
#1 “Le Violon d’Ingres (Ingres’s Violin)” Man Ray, 1924 – Getty Museum
#2 “Shower Sanctuary #2” Erie Chapman/Dane Dakota, 2017
#3 Erik Johansson – “Let’s Leave” – 2015 (?)