WELCOME, ONLINE VISITORS! Feel free to add your own contributions in the “Comments” field below (include any visuals as links).
This Exercise has a creative and an analytical component. Here we go:
1) Find at least two good examples of Surrealist images or visual art (paintings, photos, sculptures, etc.) or videos online and include them below (remember to sign in to get to the Dashboard/editing platform for this page). Make sure to give us the artist’s names and titles, please. Your examples can be either established Surrealist artists’ work, e.g. by Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, Alberto Giacometti, Max Ernst, Frida Kahlo, Maya Deren, etc., or work by lesser known artists that has some Surrealist qualities to it, in your opinion. You may even create your own Surrealist artifact, photograph or make a brief movie of it (shorter than 1 minute, please), and add it below!
2) Briefly annotate one of your image/video file with your own thoughts about it: what is “Surrealist” about it, to you, and why?
3) Briefly annotate another student’s uploaded image/video file with your own thoughts about it: what is “Surrealist” about it, to you, and why? (Try to choose one that hasn’t received any annotations yet, if possible.) You may also annotate one of the images discussed in class; see below.
As an alternative to the analytical portions (2 and 3) of this exercise, you may write a brief Surrealist poem about the image(s) you’ve chosen to annotate. (For kicks, you might also want to try writing an “Exquisite Corpse” poem about it with your friends, all of whom should also take a look at the image before contributing–just like we did in class!)
For Stanford students: Easy technical instructions on how to add an image/video file to this page can be found here. Please let me know if you have any questions, and enjoy!
Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory (1931)–discussed in class
(Khan Academy has a short, informal video about this piece, here.)
Man Ray, The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1920)–discussed in class
Object/photograph was inspired by a phrase written by Isidore Ducasse [pseud.Comte de Lautrémont] in his work Les Chants de Maldoror (1869), “the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!”
Here is the EXQUISITE CORPSE POEM we collectively produced in class today, inspired by this image:
HERE IS ANOTHER EXQUISITE CORPSE POEM, SENT TO US BY 25 STUDENTS IN DR. BETH WIGHTMAN’S “MODERN BRITISH LITERATURE” CLASS AT CSUN (CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY NORTHRIDGE), on april 24, 2013:
A beautiful store ran smelly ambition
A purple hamlet arguing bright morality
The green spatula gulped red clumsy water
The large skyscrapers fornicating burnt museum
A noisy logic runs boring parsnip
Thank you, CSUN students! We love to see your work! Feel free to leave us comments in the “Reply” section below!
Rene Magritte, The Son of Man (1964)–discussed in class
Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), 1928-29
Man Ray, The Observatory: Two Lovers (1964, but based on a previous work from 1931; also often called The Lips)–discussed in class
Annotation: To me, this is surrealist because it employs one of the major techniques of surrealist art: juxtaposition. Surrealists used juxtaposition to evoke a stronger, and more startling effect or reaction in the viewer. First, the title The Observatory: Two Lovers seemingly contrasts with the image itself– we wonder why it is titled that, and what it has to do with the painting, and therefore we become more engaged (whereas if it were just a painting of anatomically correct lips with the title The Lips, as it would be in realism, the painting would have a much lesser impact on the viewer). Additionally, the brightly colored lips in the painting are in juxtaposition with the grey, duller background.
Alberto Giacometti, Surrealist Table (1933)
This image is full of conflict and unclear commentary on sexuality, women, and man’s animalistic nature. At first glance it appears to depict a predatory, even degrading eroticism, with the bull taking the helpless woman. But then we see the woman has horns herself, and the bull is hollowed where his chest should be, making him appear almost vulnerable. Is that a heart we see inside him?
Collaborating Artists, Nude
Extinction of Useless Lights (1927), Yves Tanguy
Yves Tanguy was a French surrealist painter. In André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism (1924), he states, “I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality” (p. 723). To me, this painting illustrates well the aim of the surrealists to break down the distinction between dreams and reality, or to at least rid us of our connotation that reality is superior to, or more real, than dreams. Stylistically, Tanguy is very reminiscent of the work of Salvador Dalí, however Tanguy’s subject matter, to me, seems even more abstract than Dalí’s. In this image, things almost look like recognizable objects, but not quite; we can’t be sure what they are, if they are anything at all. Because of this difficulty in distinguishing whether the subject matter of the painting is “real,” it has the dreamlike quality that Breton and the surrealists created. Additionally, the title seems irrelevant to the subject(s) of the painting, which, as we discussed in class, was another tendency of surrealist art.
Salome (1928?), Francis Picabia
Francis Picabia was a French surrealist. This image of Salome illustrates another part of surrealism, which is that surrealism was in part a reaction to realism. In realism, everything is depicted exactly how it is and with as much accuracy and truth as possible. Breton implies this is boring and that realism leaves no margin for imagination or creative interpretation. This image of Salome clearly has distorted facial features, and the seemingly unsystematic layering of other images on the painting again creates a dreamlike quality that is certainly not surrealist.
To me, this image by Picabia also emphasizes the surrealist notion that imagination and thought is continually influencing, and equally important to, the real world. The floating outline of the severed head of John the Baptist overlayed on top of the entire figure of Salome suggests that mental, imaginative world of her desires and delusions are equally as important as the physical manifestation of the event itself, and require representation within the picture plane.
The Master’s Bedroom (1920), Max Ernst
While browsing the Internet for Surrealist art, I came across an interesting article about a Surrealist exhibition that was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005. Among the many artists that were featured, Max Ernst was one of them and some interesting information was mentioned about his unique role in the Surrealist movement. Max Ernst was the only German-born artist in the Surrealist group, which was a challenge for him at the time because of the circumstances surrounding the defeat of Germany after World War I. Due to the political climate of Germany and the world at the time, Ernst was denied a visa to attend his first show in Paris so instead he sent collages to his friends as a form of “mail art” so they could set up his exhibition for him. The piece featured above is an example of one the creations he sent to his friends to be featured in his first show. This piece is actually a collage of children’s primer illustrations. I had no idea what a “primer” was when I read the article so I looked it up and apparently a primer is a children’s prayer-book that was supposed to teach children their prayers and other simple subjects. After learning about the background of this piece of art, I found it to be all the more fascinating. With this background in mind, it seems that Ernst is sexualizing these seemingly innocent pictures from a children’s prayer-book with the presence of the bed, table with food and wine, and the title “The Master’s Bedroom.” It is also unclear as to who the”Master” Ernst is referring to really is, but with the religious connotation in mind – it may be referring to God? I also found the distortions of size and perspective he used to be intriguing – he makes the room very long and the animals seem to be larger than the furniture. I’m honestly not quite sure what to make of this piece as it is very ambiguous and has a title that makes it all the more unclear, but I think that is a key characteristic of surrealist art – ambiguity/non-sequitur! Surrealist art, from what I understand and how I have been experiencing it, gives a lot of agency to the person who is viewing it. As there is no clear meaning to the image, it is up to the viewer to ponder and decide for himself or herself!
Surrealism and Painting (1942), Max Ernst
“Exquisite Corpse” Poem I made with my fellow staffers at the Bridge in response to the above painting:
Friday Night Shift
Swans Reflecting Elephants – Salvador Dali
This surrealist piece by Salvador Dali is, as the title states, showcasing swans on a body of water whose reflections are shown as elephants. I think that this piece is surrealist because of the way in which it challenges the realms of reality. It is presenting a scene in nature (however the colors used to represent the nature are in it of themselves reminiscent of a dreamlike state), but it is also imposing this skewed meshing with the creative imagination in the depiction of the swans as elephants in their reflections. It is a clashing of the real and the creative, and therefore surrealist.
The Elephant Celebes – Max Ernst
The scene looks like an art studio, invaded by industrialization. The nude sculpture is pushed out of place by the massive black creature that dominates the frame. This Greek influence seems to suggest a commentary on the aging and outdated classical beauty that the surrealists are displacing. This painting reminds me of a Dr. Seuss story page. The sky seems filled with smog, or perhaps a floating ocean? The upper edge of the painting is so mysterious–I read that there are two fish in the corner that seem to replace the birds, a very surrealist defiance of convention.
I know that the historical arguments on the art mentions African and anthropological influences and I wonder how transparent these allusions could have been to contemporary audiences.
These pieces are Surrealist to me because they depict the artists’ views of situations/life from a skewed and almost frightening perspective. Both of the above pieces show the artists themselves. The Kahlo piece is a self-portrait, and the Ernst piece features the artist as a green stork-like bird next to his lady love and supporter of his work, Peggy Guggenheim. Imagination is let loose while still piercing the real world. These Surrealist works resonate with me because I can see both the true story they are telling and the wild world of the mind that they are being twisted in.
These two images are by one of my favorite contemporary digital collage artists, Luis Dourado from Portugal. They are pulled from his series entitled “Into Space.” I chose these two images because they struck me as a modern iteration of surrealism, drawing from the traditions of Man Ray and Magritte. They both depict human forms, yet without any clear identity; rather, they are abstractions, seemingly contradictory to both the perspective plane and the setting of their backgrounds. In addition, the elimination of the eyes and face of the figures makes them seem just slightly not-human, and stirs an eerie sense of fugue and confusion within the viewer. The surreal, dream-like quality is enhanced by the floating eye in the pink sun on the horizon (in the first image) and the replacement of the face of the second figure with a similar-yet-different landscape photo. The blending of human and landscape makes these collages seem more similar to the world of dreams, yet they draw from imagery of the real world, making the collages strongly “surreal.”