Friday, September 12, 2008

Key Terms: Surrealism

One of the most well-known and popular Surrealist artists is Salvador Dali. Most college students would recognize his painting "Persisitence of Memory" (although they may only know it as "the one with the melting clocks.") One night, when Joseph Cornell was screening one of his collage films, Dali flew into a jealous rage, overturned the projector, and called Cornell a skunk. Dali later said, "My idea for a film is exactly that... I never wrote it or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it." While Joseph Cornell was never a card-carrying member of the Surrealist movement, Surrealism did provide a context in which his art was accepted and understood.

The founder of Surrealism, André Breton, defined Surrealism as "Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought's dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations... Surrealism rests in the belief in the superiorreality of certain forms of association neglected heretofore; in the omnipotence of the dream and in the disinterested play of thought. It tends definitely to do away with all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in the solution of the principal problems of life."

In other words, surrealists:
  • Strive to allow the impulses of the unconscious mind to guide the production of their art
  • Believe in Freud's idea of analyzing dreams to explore the subconscious
  • Strip images of their meaning and allow the unconscious to assign them a new meaning
Joseph Cornell was first inspired by the work of surrealist, Max Ernst. Cornell began making collages that were similar to Ernsts. After he developed his own style of art - his famous shadowboxes - Cornell exhibited his work with Surrealists and became friends with many of them. Cornell's work was dreamlike and certainly used images to evoke feelings from his subconscious, however, he never truly fit into the Surrealist mold. He was a "mama's boy who spent his Sundays in church and quavered before visions of fleshly sin." Many aspects of Surrealism such as "their call for revolution, their hatred of the church, their furious loathing of the parental generation... made him a most improbable disciple." Cornell once said that he felt Surrealism, "has healthier possibilities than have been developed."

  • Utopia Parkway: The Life and work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon
  • Manifestoes of Surrealism by AndrĂ© Breton
  • Giornal Nuovo

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