The Movements: Surrealism

Noel Fielding– and Dali-lover explains this most abstract of genres


Our York’s current chill seems constant, toes cold and face chapped ‘till exams come. Us indolent English students only have one annual set of exams, when the sun smirks at those forced inside.

How glad I was last year to leave York’s frosted crunch-crisp air for the green vines, fine wines and heat of Rome. Surprisingly, I didn’t just spend my time basking in piazzas clutching a vino rosso. That’s because I went to an exhibition of the mad and brilliant surrealist Salvador Dali.

To generalise any genre is tricky, particularly one like surrealism, typified by the unpredictable and categorised by its amorphous avoidance of a rigid format. But let me explain why I find Surrealism so exciting.

Surrealism is a form encompassing the shocking, the surprising and the non-sequitous. Born in 1920s Paris, Surrealism has a beauty and brutality that is reflective of its painful roots in the anti-war movement of Dadaism. Although its famous legacy is that of visual art, its waves ripple deeper than this, affecting literature, music and film.

“From Monty Python’s Hells Grannies to Noel Fielding’s Mighty Booshery, comedy must give a thankful nod towards Surrealism.”

Both a product and an act of philosophy and politics for many of its practitioners, Surrealism isn’t confined to the arts. André Breton, the movement’s father, described it as “the real functioning of thought. Dictation in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation. Surrealism is based on the belief… in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought.”


Freud and the exploration of the subconscious, often attempted through spontaneity, essences much of surrealist work; this defines the fundamental difference between Dadaism and Surrealism.

The early 1930s was the decade when Surrealism entered the mainstream and its golden age. Exemplifying this, in 1931 numerous artists created revolutionary and memorable pieces, including: Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, exhibiting his now trademark manner of liquefying objects, and Magritte’s La Voix des Airs. Throughout the late ‘30s and into the ‘40s, Surrealism continued to flourish.

It wasn’t until ‘66, when Breton died, that Surrealism as an organised movement was said to have ended, although Dali himself died in 1989.

Surrealism concepts will perpetually exist and interest. Consider surrealist influences on the master of colour, Rothko, and the movement he belongs to, abstract expressionism. In 2003 a collaborative film, now available on Youtube, between Walt Disney and Dali entitled Destino was released.

For me, Surrealism is hilarious. Stumbling around the Dali exhibition sun-drunk and cackling, people must have thought me a little mad. From Monty Python’s Hells Grannies to Noel Fielding’s Mighty Booshery, comedy must give a thankful nod towards Surrealism. This movement still characteristically subverts and upsets the norm and should not be forgotten.


  1. This is pretty self-indulgent for my tastes; with its poorly-punctuated “frosted crunch-crisp air” (what does that even mean?) and unnecessarily-translated ‘vino rosso’, I was taken with but one idea: “Prentious, moi?”.

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