The Surrealist movement, starting in the early 1920s, can be called a cultural movement that includes both writings and visual artworks. In his Surrealist Manifesto, André Breton defines surrealism as “n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.”
Surrealism’s sustaining principles are a passion of the atypical and a cult of the image. It first revolutionized poetry by employing automatic writing, a method that allowed for the intensive production of images drawn from the unconscious, more extraordinary than those obtained rationally. Painters sought the material equivalent of this “thought writing,” deploying a comparable imagery from nocturnal dreams. Surrealist painting could not be a simple avatar of fantastic painting, one that adhered too often to quasi-academic conventions. It engaged, through its spirit and audacious techniques, in the battle of modern art. While embarking from Cherbourg on his crossing to Mexico in 1938, André Breton offered his friends who remained behind in Paris the following exhortation, published in Minotaure: “Beware of imitations, spinning tops from the bazaars of the dead, show-off hot air balloons.” It was not enough that one incorporate fantasy, even extravagance, into paintings and poems in order to link them to surrealism; we also have to detect a poetics or ethics comparable to those of the movement’s founders.
In the 21st century, we now have irrefutable proof that surrealism was the most important movement in art and poetry of the preceding century, one that will enjoy its longevity for some time to come. There is no end to the number of new exhibitions and books devoted to its illustrious members, leaving far behind the authors of expressionism and futurism, which nonetheless were two other important trends in the history of modern art.