What Is Surrealism?

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Surrealism began in the early 20th century and was made famous by Salvador Dali, who created fantasy-like dreamscapes that were technically perfect, but often troubling. Discover the origin of surrealism, which also has roots in the work of Sigmund Freud, with information from an art historian, critic and curator in this free video on art.

Part of the Video Series: Modern Art History
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Video Transcript

Hi, professor Betty Brown here. The topic is surrealism. Begun in the early 20th century, by a single leader, Andre Breton, surrealism sought to give artistic form to the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud. Andre Breton was a Medic in WWI and he actually ended up dealing with a lot of people who had what we would call today post-traumatic shock syndrome and he looked to the writings of this man, this Austrian guy, Sigmund Freud, to help him deal with his patients who were having auditory and visual hallucinations they were so deeply troubled by what they'd seen in the war, and Andre Breton began to think about, not just this daily reality that we all experience with our senses, but the other reality of dreams and fantasies, and he sought to unify our daily reality with the dream world and create a higher or "sur"reality. He sought to do it with poetry, but eventually, artists got in on the game and I'm sure you know about the most famous surrealist artist, Salvadore Dali, who created with is buddy from college Louis Bunuel, a film about their dreams and fantasies that they called, "Un Chien Andalou." Dali continued to create what he called color photographs of his dreams in astonishingly technically just perfect paintings from the 1920s and '30s and '40s; technically perfect, but content-wise, very troubling and, for many viewers, quite mysterious. Dali was by no means the only surrealist painter. There was his Spanish compatriot, Juan Miro; there were lots of amazingly gifted women surrealists as well. Another Spaniard, Ramirez Varo, British artist, Leonora Carrington and all the way over here in the New World, painting out of Mexico, Frida Kahlo, whose astonishingly insightful and compassionate and powerful surreal works I'm sure you know.


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