Surrealism: A Controversial Escape in Art History


Delving into the pages of art history, one cannot traverse its landscape without encountering a realm that stepped on a few toes — Surrealism. This era, born in the aftermath of the First World War, emerges as a controversial and bold movement, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of art history. While its essence might be elusive to many, respecting Surrealism is acknowledging its inescapable role in shaping the contemporary art world. This movement, rooted in a desire to break traditions, open minds, and provide an escape from harsh realities, deserves exploration for the profound impact it left behind.

Surrealism, marked by its boldness and controversy, found its genesis in the aftermath of the First World War. A movement that not only challenged artistic norms but also offered a distinctive escape from the harshness of reality. Despite the initial misunderstanding that shrouds Surrealism, acknowledging its significance is paramount, considering its enduring influence on the modern art landscape.

The First World War ushered in an era of profound change, shaking the foundations of societies and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake.

Get quality help now
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Art

star star star star 4.9 (247)

“ Rhizman is absolutely amazing at what he does . I highly recommend him if you need an assignment done ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Amidst the wreckage, a group of avant-garde thinkers sought solace and expression beyond the confines of traditional art forms. This quest for an alternative, a realm of imagination untethered by reality, gave birth to Surrealism. It was a reaction to the somber reality, an artistic movement with a positive purpose — to provide an escape from the harshness that lingered in the aftermath of the war.

Origins of Surrealism

Surrealism did not emerge as an artistic movement initially; instead, it germinated as a literary movement, conceived by poet Andre Breton in 1924 with the publication of the Manifesto of Surrealism.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

This movement sought to unleash the unconscious mind, unfettered by conscious control and conventions. Andre Breton's vision was clear: to resolve the contradiction between dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality.

As the intellectual force behind Surrealism, Andre Breton believed in the liberation of the mind from the constraints of societal norms and rational thought. The Surrealist Manifesto, published in 1924, laid the foundation for a movement that would challenge the boundaries of artistic expression. Breton envisioned a reality where the conscious and unconscious merged, creating a super-reality that transcended the conventional limits of human experience.

Influenced significantly by the gloomy post-war period, Surrealism served as a beacon of positivity amid melancholy. Drawing inspiration from the theories of Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychologist, Surrealism delved into the mysteries of the mind. The movement was not only an artistic expression but also politically influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx.

Transition to Visual Arts

Initially hesitant to align with visual artists due to Surrealism's emphasis on spontaneity, the movement eventually embraced figures like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. While the founders were wary of contradicting their beliefs, visual artists played a pivotal role in steering Surrealism towards a new frontier—away from socially acceptable norms and into the realms of the unconscious mind.

The transition from a literary to a visual movement marked a pivotal moment in Surrealism's evolution. The inclusion of visual artists expanded the movement's scope, introducing new dimensions of expression. Figures like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, known for their unorthodox approaches, became trailblazers in a movement that defied conventional artistic practices.

While the Surrealist Manifesto emphasized spontaneity and impulsiveness, visual artists found ways to translate these principles onto canvas. Picasso's Cubist influences and Duchamp's groundbreaking conceptual art added layers to Surrealism, blending the conscious and unconscious in visually striking ways. Andre Breton, although initially apprehensive, acknowledged the power of visual arts in capturing the essence of Surrealism.

Prominent Surrealist Artists

Key figures like Renee Magritte and Salvador Dali propelled Surrealism into the visual arts. Magritte, particularly known for illusionistic Surrealism, infused sexually explicit material into dreamlike settings. Dali, influenced by Magritte, contributed his unique, sexually charged, and hallucinatory visuals. The global reach of Surrealism was evident as artists like Dali and Magritte moved to Paris, marking a crucial period in the movement's development.

Renee Magritte, a pivotal figure in Surrealism, moved to Paris in 1927 and became a central figure in the visual surrealist movement. His exploration of illusionistic Surrealism involved placing sexually explicit material within dreamlike environments, challenging the boundaries of perception and reality. Salvador Dali, joining the surrealist movement in Paris two years later, further expanded on Magritte's ideas, creating surrealist paintings that delved into the realms of the unconscious mind.

Dali's 1929 piece, "The Accommodations of Desire," exemplifies his use of Freudian symbolism, incorporating elements like ants and nudity to represent complex concepts such as sexual longings. Andre Breton, in 1930, commended Dali's ability to depict the unconscious mind, solidifying his status as a prominent surrealist artist. Surrealist artists, unbound by national boundaries, formed a global wave that transcended geographical constraints, with contributors emerging from Germany, America, and Europe.

Several noteworthy pieces from the early surrealist artists added depth to the movement. Marx Ernst's "Two Children Are Threatened by a Nightingale," for instance, depicted oddly placed human figures in an uncomfortable scene, challenging viewers with its disconnected title. Salvador Dali's iconic "The Persistence of Memory" presented melting clocks in a desert land, offering an odd yet captivating spin on contemporary art.

Controversies and Criticisms

While Surrealism's artistic contributions are undeniable, controversies inevitably trailed its path. Fueled by strong sexual imagery and explicit content, Surrealism sparked disagreements and criticism. The movement's inclination towards nudity, both male and female, provoked reactions from feminists and individuals uncomfortable with the explicit nature of the art.

Surrealism, rooted in the depiction of the unconscious mind, unintentionally became a battleground for societal debates. The movement, aiming to provide an escape from reality, found itself entangled in controversies. Artists like Salvador Dali, known for their controversial lives, faced criticism not only from external sources but also within the surrealist movement itself. Dali's steadfast refusal to alter his beliefs in the face of societal expectations generated internal conflicts, highlighting the challenges within Surrealism.

As Surrealism gained global prominence, it became a magnet for problems. Conflicts arose within the surrealist group, particularly concerning political views and differing ideologies. European surrealists clashed with their Spanish counterparts, emphasizing the internal struggles that mirrored broader societal challenges.


Reflecting on Surrealism reveals a revolutionary movement that not only challenged artistic norms but also stirred enduring controversies. Its portrayal as a journey full of surprises and enduring influence paints a comprehensive picture of Surrealism's lasting impact on the canvas of art history.

Updated: Jan 11, 2024
Cite this page

Surrealism: A Controversial Escape in Art History. (2016, Oct 03). Retrieved from

Surrealism: A Controversial Escape in Art History essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment