orld War I (1914-1918) was a human catastrophe that devastated Western civilization and mocked the hope inherent in “modernism”. The sheer volume of the war’s slaughter was beyond belief. The horror of it all destroyed the trust in science, medicine and technology as the golden gateway to a harmonious and peaceful future for humanity. All that was thought to be good had been twisted to the evil purpose of a global war. A global sense of hopefulness was replaced with a global sense of fear and loathing.
The arts community responded with the Dada and Surrealism arts movement, with Dali’s dripping watches on canvas and Bunuel’s shocking sliced eyeballs on film. It was as if the artists were acknowledging that madness still held sway just beneath the surface of everyday rationality. The dream logic of sleeping hours became as much a part of one’s personal narrative as one’s waking perceptions and deductions. The 1920s and 30s were a time when the avant garde in the arts explored and commented upon their perceived meaninglessness of life, and the infinitely jumbled and recombined elements of surrealism became the language of their rebuke of the façade of rationality.
oday the radicalism of the surrealist movement in art is mostly gone (although there are still the occasional echoes of the original shocks, like Serrano’s 1987 photograph, “Piss Christ”), but the stylistic influence of surrealism remains indelibly imprinted on the culture, especially in design and advertising. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles designed by Frank Gehry is officially labeled “deconstructivist,” a modern aesthetic stepchild of surrealism. Advances in CGI artistry are making almost every beer commercial on TV seem like a free association exercise under influence of mild hallucinogens. This twisting and turning and melting and absurdist juxtapositioning of disassociated objects is the visual legacy of surrealism albeit devoid of its original defining spirit of anger and despair. Our civilization has managed to survive, after all.
We now value surrealism simply for its being so enjoyable in its wildly creative...
Ironically, the original meaning of surrealism is now increasingly once again heard in the public discourse. Again this comes in response to horror—this time with the advent of senseless acts of terrorism in our cities and towns. Witnesses at the Boston Marathon bombing numbly described the event as “surreal,” when unable to describe something that couldn’t possibly have happened, yet in fact had just happened. “Like being in a bad dream, waiting to wake up.” The 9/11 disaster was repeatedly called “surreal,” describing an impossible horror having just become reality. Such was the original fire that burned in the hearts of the original surrealist artists. Betrayed by the promise of peace and human progress, they retreated into their own psychic landscape of dreams and fantasies as their only respite from the madness of irrational hate and violence. Let us hope this return to surrealism’s “original usage” is of short duration, so we can continue to appreciate the art form’s altered realities for the purely imaginative artistry of its enduring aesthetic pleasures (minus the despair).
“Dadaism not only wanted to present the meaninglessness of existence but also the meaninglessness of "art" as well such as with Duchamp's ‘Fountain.’
The future of surrealism in the arts is at a crossroads. Technology has increased what artists can create by a thousand-fold.
But will surrealist images, like those in sc-fi movies, point the way to a new way forward, or will surrealism be mainly utilized as a commercial distraction away from social issues?
Do you feel that surrealism should be judged only in terms of the aesthetic and without any further political or social “textual” meaning?
Do you think that a trust in science and political democracy has given us a naïve notion of steady human progress? Should the “irrationality” of ancient beliefs and dream visions be factored into how we define ourselves and our journey forward?
Have you ever had the feeling that the boundaries between your waking life and your sleeping life were becoming porous? Has dream logic ever served you well solving a waking problem? Has a revelation in a dream ever proven true in the light of day?
What do you beleive in today's society motivates so many artists on deviantART to adopt surrealism?
“I consider dadaism as the philosophical basis for niche art movements such as net.art. A small movement that is not only anti-art but presents a critical eye on technology.
“Surrealism initially differentiated itself from dadaism with a focus on dream states and an influence from early psychology.