How to Make Surreal Art

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Surreal art features the element of surprise.
Surreal art features the element of surprise. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Surrealism is as much a state of mind as it is a form of art. Influenced by Sigmund Freud and his groundbreaking work in psychoanalysis, the original surrealists, working in the late 1910s and early 1920s, filled their work with dreamlike and often disturbing images. Many of the paintings look like hallucinations. Creating surreal art is about bringing together the world of the subconscious with the real world. Or as the great surreal artist Salvador Dali explained, "You have to systematically create confusion."

Acquaint yourself with the masters of surrealism, such as Rene Magritte, Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Juan Miro. Surrealism is not just a visual movement, but a literary one as well. In a manifesto, Andre Breton set forth the principles of surrealism. He wrote about the importance of dreams and nonconformism. Understanding what it is about will help you create surreal art.

Choose a medium. More than with most art forms, surrealism is flexible. You can use pen and ink, collage, oil or any other combination of mediums.

Use free association. Let one image propel you to another, and don't restrict your art to things that connect. Violent images can be combined with dreamlike ones and placed next to erotic ones. You are free to create whatever your mind conceives.

Draw on images from your dreams. You can keep a journal and draw images right after you wake. The images themselves don't need to be realistic. In Dali's painting, "The Persistence of Memory," a glob-like image in the center is actually the painter's face transformed.

Have fun. Whimsy is an important element in surreal art. Images are often playful. Surrealists often presented themselves as artists who did not take themselves too seriously.

Tips & Warnings

  • Think carefully about the title. The correct title adds layers of meaning to a work. Salvador Dali's titles include: "The Persistence of Memory," "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumble Bee" and "Premonition of Civil War."
  • Although surreal art might seem to be more about the idea than the execution, technique still does play an important role. For example, in Dali's "Persistence of Memory," the golden cliffs are based on a realistic depiction of landscape from Catalonia.

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