Get Real With Surrealism

Surrealism is an art movement that first hit the art scene in Europe following World War I. Surreal art is inspired by dreams, fantasies and the unconscious mind. Surreal art often combines things that we wouldn’t expect to see together and it embraces the strange and unusual. When surrealism first hit the art scene it was described by critics as garbage, but the jokes on them, because surrealism has proven to have lasting cultural effects. It is commonplace in today’s world and we see it so often that we barely identify it for what it is. Surrealism abounds in our cartoons, video games, tv shows, films and advertisements.

One of the techniques that surreal artists use is called juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the act of placing objects together in order to highlight their similarities or differences and in surrealism it is more often about the differences. Surreal artists also like to place things in unexpected surroundings. The result make ordinary things look odd or incongruous. Another popular technique of surreal artists is called automatism. This method is meant to tap into the artist's unconscious thoughts resulting in a free form work of art without literal representation. You might think of it like doodling while lost in thought.

I always enjoy teaching my students about surrealism and it is so popular that I have devoted several classes to this art movement entirely. In fact, one of my students was so successful that she was selected to have her artwork on display at the Salvador Dali Art Museum in St. Petersburg! Collage is a favorite technique of the surreal artists because it is a way of reassembling reality. It’s easy and fun and you can do it too. To begin you will need to gather some magazines, or newspapers, scissors, glue and plain paper. All you have to do is look for funny or interesting pictures in the printed material and then cut them out. Then you decide how you can arrange the images to make a composition that is a bit strange, like a fish wearing a cowboy hat, or a cactus with a human nose. Or you could even create a Frankenstein creature by assembling different parts of different animals together to make a new and bizarre creation. Once you get the hang of it you will realize that you can use any objects to act as body parts. For example you could cut out a picture of lipstick and use it as your character’s arms or legs. The more outrageous the better the result! Once you have cut out all of your pieces and arranged them, the next step is to glue them onto a piece of paper. You could take it a step further and design a setting for your character as well, either by drawing or collaging it.

You could give automatic drawing a try too. All you need is a pencil and a piece of paper. I find that listening to music is a great way to get started with automatic drawing because music has the ability to transport us out of our thoughts, thus allowing us to draw more freely. Automatic drawing is very liberating because there is no definitive end result that you are trying to achieve and the results are always unexpected and interesting.

Another fun activity involves juxtaposition. Begin by thinking of an object and a setting. These two things should not be things that you would ordinarily find together. So not a dog at the beach, but maybe a cat in outer space. At Gogh Arts we like to incorporate chance into this activity. You can make cards with words on them and them pull two or three cards from the deck at random, like for example, “swimming pool”, “Santa”, and “pizza”, and then let your imagination do the rest. How would you put those three objects together in a work of art?

There is one more activity that I would like to share with you this week. You will need paint or ink to make your own “ink blot” image. To begin you will drip the paint or ink in a random way on to one half of a piece of paper. Then fold the paper in half, pressing the paint or ink onto the other half of the paper to create an abstract image that is symmetrical. Once the paper dries, use your imagination to decide what your image reminds you of. Then using a pencil or colored pencils flesh out the idea by drawing on your paper. The only limit is your imagination!

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