SURREALISM
The systematic dismantling of established values at which Dadaism had worked could lead to constructive results only by bringing into play and organizing -- and this was the role of Surrealism -- the host of obscure impulses which, springing from unexplored realms of the mind; called up concepts hitherto considered so many baseless fancies; although in the past, masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Bosch, Breughel, Arcimboldo, Blake, Grandville or Goya had not been unaware of them and had used them for limited and specific purposes. It was a question of themes supplied by the unconscious, chance, madness, dream, hallucination, delirium or humour, psychic states capable of creating in the artist's imagination zones of 'systematic estrangement' that he would then have to identify and populate. Dada had exhausted itself chiefly by making tracery out of the rubble of its demolitions when Surrealism undertook to experiment scientifically with the mysterious materials furnished by the unconscious and at the same time to liberate sensibility from the grip of the conventions that had governed artists of all times.
Therefore, when André Breton published his Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924, an absolute directive was given to make a clean sweep of rational vision and to substitute for it an irrational and, so to speak, primal knowledge of things. Accordingly, Max Ernst, in his Treatise on Surrealist Painting contended that 'any conscious, mental control of reason, taste, will, is out of place in a work that deserves to be described as absolutely Surrealist'. While traditional aesthetic principles were based upon the 'reflective' discovery of relations to be observed between the various aspects of things, the role of Surrealism consisted in discovering new relations between objects unreflectively, this being possible only through the irruption into life of the irrational, the unconscious, the spontaneous, the fortuitous and an automatism outside all systematization and codification. Moreover, the painter could no longer allow himself to be thwarted by traditional plastic means. Aragon 'defied' painting in a very aggressive manner. Surrealists even went so far as to poke fun at the 'old barnstormer Cézanne' with his 'three apples on a plate'. Every artist was to work alone at his own vision of the world, unconcerned with that of the others, even if they were themselves followers of Surrealism. In answer to a test given to them, which consisted in indicating what painter the sight of a piece of pink velvet suggested to them, Surrealists named in turn Manet, Böcklin, Utrillo, Renoir, Watteau, Monet, Jean-Paul Laurens, Gustave Moreau, Delacroix and El Greco. They were no longer striving toward a single truth capable of stirring sensibility before a given object. Surrealism transcended the ocular perception on whose value and legitimacy Cubism had already cast doubts. It joined, but more profoundly, and within a freedom of interpretation sometimes carried as far as anarchy, the religious, mythological, fabulous or magic representations that, from remotest antiquity, have heightened man's awareness by upsetting his sensibility. Surrealism refused to see in art an object of enjoyment, but rather discovered in it a way of deepening that knowledge whose progress it associated with that of science.
Surrealism revolted against traditional plastic means, but not in the manner of the Dadaists, who denied the very idea of them. For these means Surrealism substituted others that were boldly new. Whether in the technique of collage or in the composition of 'Surrealist objects', its intention was always to bring to the point of paroxysm the association of unlike elements of objects, depriving them of their conventional purpose in order to give them a new one, born of most unexpected and surprising juxtapositions. The most revolutionary ambition of the Surrealists seems to have been revealed by André Breton when he wrote: 'I shall not conceal that for me the strongest Surrealist image is the one that presents the highest degree of the arbitrary, the one that takes the longest to translate into practical language, whether it contains an enormous amount of apparent contradiction, whether one of its terms is curiously concealed, whether, promising to be sensational, it seems to come to a weak conclusion; whether it draws from itself a derisory formal justification, whether it is of an hallucinatory nature, whether it lends very naturally the mask of the concrete to the abstract or vice versa, whether it implies the negation of some elementary physical quality, or whether it provokes laughter'. One can wonder now what the Surrealist work of art brought to the general position of the movement. Whether painting, collage or Surrealist object, it appears that the chief contribution of the plastic work is to have opposed the precious immobility of an image fixed in space to the undulating, varying and dynamic quality of Surrealist writing proper and its development in time. By the unexpected, even arbitrary nature of the cut of the object, by its sudden coagulation on the canvas, and by the unreal atmosphere that emanates from the whole, the works of Surrealist painters have indeed imposed the anguishing mystery of their upsetting fixity. Feelings of unending expectation, anxiety before enigmas, or the strangeness of certain meetings in an unknown past enabled the artists to uncover mysterious impressions charged with the most secret, sometimes the most baffling, but always a deeply human poetry. Their untiring quest for the marvellous took on various aspects, according to each painter's imagination or gift for premonition. Chirico, in his first 'manner', discovered the secret motives of metaphysical anguish, as it could be born in the unexpected encounter of known objects. Hans Arp caused a strange life to spring up in the very heart of objects supposedly inert. Max Ernst, both in his frottages and in his paintings, endowed with real existence, elements suggested to him only by hallucination. As for Joan Miro, he created a universe inhabited by signs that his will for metamorphosis charged with symbolic values.
And while André Masson enquired into the perpetual struggle between life and death in us and in things, it was beyond the infinity of the sky or in the very depths of the ocean that Yves Tanguy sought to capture the essential mysteries. Dali, behind a front of delirious interpretations, deliberately undertook the disquieting organization of a metaphysical universe. Man Ray, who made use of photography for his rayographs, drew particularly moving poetical suggestions from the fixity of objects. Finally, Magritte discovered 'lyrical facts' hitherto unsuspected in the juxtaposition of familiar objects. In short, the intentions of the Surrealists stemmed for painters as well as for poets from a desire to escape the absurdity of events and the stupidity of the official literary and artistic formulae that weighed heavily upon the future of the intelligence. If, then, the young people of 1924-1930 attempted to destroy adulterated values, imagining that they were starting again from scratch, from the very beginnings of sensibility, there was nothing illegitimate in their action. The influence of Surrealist thought is as yet at only an early stage and time will develop its intentions, with certain indispensable amendments. An inevitable necessity has made Surrealism, at last freed of the aggressive challenges that every revolution involves, a discovery that cannot be passed over, and one that will influence decisively the future development of art.
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