Dada and Surrealism, in Brief

L.H.O.O.Q by Marcel Duchamp (1919).

a. Dada

(i) The origins

Portrait of Cézanne, Portrait of Renoir, Portrait of Rembrandt by Francis Picabia (1920).
The Art Critic by Raoul Hausmann (1919–20). The photomontage serves as an expression of Hausmann’s critique of the tradition art institution, as well as society in general.
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917).
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917).
Fountain by Marcel Duchamp (1917).
Left: Hugo Ball, the author of the Dada Manifesto and the credited founder of Dada. Right: Ball in costume while performing sound poetry (1916).

b. Surrealism

As Dada’s artistic heir, Surrealism presented a contrasting idea: instead of wishing to overturn society, the Surrealists sought to re-enchant life by probing the inner-workings of reality by exploring irreality. The publication of André Breton’s First Surrealist Manifesto in 1924 marked the birth of Surrealism. Breton (1969, p. 26) defined Surrealism to be ‘based on the belief in the superior reality of certain previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought.’ Succeeding Dada, Surrealism retained its attention to irrationality (the disinterested play of thought) but, influenced by Sigmund Freud’s theories, evolved to show intrigue with the unconscious mind (Hopkins, p. 17; 68–71).

Sigmund Freud, photographed by Max Halberstadt. Freud’s ideas of the human mind and how it operates unconsciously inspired André Breton to delve into and develop the concept psychic automatism.
André Breton, the author of the Surrealist Manifesto and one of founders of Surrealism.
The Habit of Leaves (Les Moeurs des feuilles) by Max Ernst (c. 1925), created with the frottage method.
Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.
The Beautiful Relations by René Magritte (1967). Courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica.
  1. While Duchamp was certainly Dadaist in spirit (as we can see from Fountain), he was not directly associated with the Dada movement. Rather, he ‘remained himself.’ See Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968.
  2. According to Freud, the unconscious personality is composed of three elements: the id (unconscious identity made up of primal instincts), the ego (the conscious mind), and the superego (our conscience and moral ideals learned in society). See Cherry (2019b) for more.
  3. ‘Free association: the expression (as by speaking or writing) of the content of consciousness without censorship as an aid in gaining access to unconscious processes especially in psychoanalysis.’ Merriam-webster, 2020.
  4. The first notions of automatic thought can be traced back to Jules Baillarger, who, in the 1850s, ‘asked his patients to write down any thought that was coming to their minds’ (Haan et. al, 2012, p. 3832).
  5. These dream-like motifs and images are central to the work of Salvador Dalí, who employed the ‘paranoid-critical method’ to produce the ‘new simulacra’ — images originating in the imagination of the unconscious mind. See Constantinidou, 2010 pp. 128–129 for more on Dalí’s paranoid-critical method.
  1. Voorhies, J. (2004). ‘Surrealism.’ Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Available at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/surr/hd_surr.htm (Accessed: 24 October 2020)
    An overview of Surrealism and the Surrealists.
  2. Mann, J. (2017). How Duchamp’s Urinal Changed Art Forever. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-duchamps-urinal-changed-art-forever (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
    The impact of Duchamp’s Fountain on the world of artnamely, in raising the question of what defines art.
  3. Magrini, J. (2009). “Surrealism’s Revisionist Reading of Freudian Psychology: Surreal Film and the Dream.” Philosophy Scholarship, 14. Available at: http://dc.cod.edu/philosophypub/14 (Accessed: 24 October 2020.
    An analysis into the influence of Freudian ideas on Surrealist cinema and thought.
  4. Hopkins, D. (2004). Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    A concise yet thorough further reading into Dada and Surrealism, discussing (among many other things) the development of Dada in different cities (Zurich, Paris, Berlin), the transition from Dada to Surrealism, keynote figures, as well as the political perspectives of both movements.
  1. Ball, H. (1996). Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary. Translated by A. Raimes. California: University of California Press.
  2. BBC Radio (1959). BBC Radio, 19 January. Available at: http://www.golob-gm.si/4-three-standard-stoppages-marcel-duchamp/r-interview-with-marcel-duchamp-george-heard-hamilton.htm (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  3. Breton, A. (1996). Manifestoes of Surrealism. Translated by R. Seaver and H. R. Lane. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
  4. Cherry, K. (2019a). Freud’s Theory of the Id in Psychology. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-id-2795275 (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  5. Cherry, K. (2019b). Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/the-id-ego-and-superego-2795951#the-id (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  6. Cohen, M. (1993). Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution. California: University of California Press.
  7. Constantinidou, D. (2010).“The Paranoid Simulacrum in Surrealism: From Embracing Madness to the Mechanism of a Mental Illness as the Purveyor of Individual Meaning.” Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism, 12, pp. 119–133.
  8. Cramer, C. and Grant, K. (2020). Dada Collage. Available at: https://smarthistory.org/dada-collage/ (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  9. Daly, L. (2013). The Appropriation of Surrealism as an Aesthetic for Consumption. BA Dissertation. Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire. Available at: [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306040740_The_Appropriation_of_Surrealism_as_an_Aesthetic_for_Consumption] (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  10. Gale, M. (2009). Objet trouvé. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20100620150735/http://moma.org/collection/theme.php?theme_id=10135 (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  11. Haan, J., Koehler, P. J., and Bogousslavsky, J. (2012). “Neurology and Surrealism: André Breton and Joseph Babisnki.” Brain, 135(12), pp. 3830–3838. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/brain/aws118 (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  12. Hancock, J. H. (1983). “Jean Arp’s The Eggboard Interpreted: The Artist as a Poet in the 1920's.” The Art Bulletin, 65(1), pp. 122–137.
  13. Hopkins, D. (2004). Dada and Surrealism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. Kostelanetz, R., Darby, J., & Santa, M. (1996). Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music: a Continuing Symposium. New York: Schirmer Books.
  15. Maddern, S.W. (2009). ‘Dada.’ in The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, John Wiley & Sons. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/9781405198073.wbierp0432 (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  16. Magrini, J. (2009). “Surrealism’s Revisionist Reading of Freudian Psychology: Surreal Film and the Dream.” Philosophy Scholarship, 14. Available at: http://dc.cod.edu/philosophypub/14 (Accessed: 24 October 2020.
  17. Mann, J. (2017). How Duchamp’s Urinal Changed Art Forever. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-duchamps-urinal-changed-art-forever (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  18. Matthews, J.H. (1991). The Surrealist Mind. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses.
  19. Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968 (n.d.). Available at: http://www.dadart.com/dadaism/dada/035a-duchamp-cage.html (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  20. Merriam-Webster. (2020). Free association. Merriam-Webster.com. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/free%20association (Accessed: 24 October 2020).
  21. Rabaté, J. (2002). “Loving Freud Madly: Surrealism between Hysterical and Paranoid Modernism.” Journal of Modern Literature, 25 (3/4), pp. 58–74.
  22. Rasmussen, M. B. (2004). “The Situationist International, Surrealism, and the Difficult Fusion of Art and Politics”. Oxford Art Journal, 27 (3), pp. 365–387.
  23. Rumens, C. (2009). ‘Poem of the week: Gadji beri bimba by Hugo Ball.’ The Guardian, 31 August. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/aug/31/hugo-ball-gadji-beri-bimba (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  24. Sartwell, C. (2010). Political Aesthetics. Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7z7v2 (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  25. Spiteri, R., and LaCoss, D. (2003). Surrealism, Politics, and Culture. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.
  26. Streahle, D. A. Z. (2011). “Visual Surrealism: A History and Analysis of the Surrealist Image.” The Lehigh Review (19), pp. 22–27. Available at: https://preserve.lehigh.edu/cas-lehighreview-vol-19/11 (Accessed: 23 October 2020).
  27. Tomkins, C. (1966). The World of Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968. New York: Time Life Books.
  28. Trachtman, P. (2006). ‘A Brief History of Dada.’ Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/dada-115169154/ (Accessed: 24 October 2020).

Student with an interest in the arts and humanities. Researcher, writer, and editor at Komuhakan.

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