To understand Surrealism, you have to take a step back and look at the ideas being talked about at the time.
Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst, is one of the biggest, if not the main influencer of the surrealist movement. Freud’s findings and writings can be directly traced and interacted with through the surrealist movement.
Freud wrote his ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ in 1900, 600 copies were printed, but they slowly moved off the shelf, they weren’t popular to begin with.
Freud’s writings covered the idea of Dreams, and the importance of them in decoding and ‘curing’ the disturbances in his patients. However, although his writings sound plausible, critics were wary, as his findings lacked scientifically rigorous research, and his sample size mainly consisted of self analysis and middle-aged Viennese women (his patients).
Also damning against Freud is the idea that perhaps he was very biased within his interpretations, only paying attention to supporting evidence, ignoring other ideas and concepts that would not support his work.
However, saying all this, his findings in Interpretation of Dreams bring forward a whole new wave of research that was not thought of before.
He stated that dreams consist of two mental processes,
- the unconscious forces that would construct a wish that was then expressed within the dream;
- censorship within the dream of that wish, forcibly distorting the expression of the wish.
Within this concept, and surrounding the process come the ideas of the ‘Manifest Content’ – the remembered narrative that occurred within the dream, often a narrative that is linked to the content of your day/life, and the ‘Latent Content’ – the underlying meaning of the dream.
Now in my opinion, I feel Freud was probably more interested with the ‘latent content’ of the dream, as the heavy idea expressed within this book is the dealings with the unconscious mind.
Freud believed that all dreams have meanings (not a common idea within the surrounding science world of the time) and that all dreams are actually showing us our secret desires and wishes of our ‘repressed infantile worlds’.
Freud used the understanding of dreams to conduct analysis on his patients by using methods such as ‘free association’, using something from the dream and asking the patient to say the first things that entered their thoughts. This is a big theme within Freud’s work – the idea of letting the unconscious come forward into the conscious mind. And this is where the surrealists start to come in.
This ‘automatic’ creation was used front and foremost in Freud’s analysis and actually, he didn’t like or really understand surrealism, he disagreed with them, saying they should actually be painting the conscious mind.
But the surrealists were really no better, using Freud’s methods, they took away the actual meaning of his work, which was really to cure and help people and used his methods for ways to practise art and ‘liberating the imagination’.
It’s also interesting to note that not only Freud’s ideas about dreams paramount in the understanding and development of surrealism, but actually how Freud’s apparent fascination with sex and all that surrounds that area of his research is also quite blatant within surrealism.
The whole movement, to me, feels like quite a violent burst out of the suppression of the very ‘prim and proper’ attitudes within the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s. This I think will be my next research point.