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What is Surrealism?, a 1934 lecture by André Breton.

"Although the driving force of Surrealism came from André Breton, there were dissidents who voiced their views in the periodical Documents beginning in April 1929. Writers Georges Bataille and Michel Leiris emerged as the main contributors. Documents was a direct challenge to "mainstream" Surrealism as championed by André Breton, who in his Second Surrealist Manifesto of 1929 derided Bataille as "(professing) to wish only to consider in the world that which is vilest, most discouraging, and most corrupted." After Documents folded a new group was formed: Acéphale. The antagony between Breton and Bataille have even led some to speak of "Bretonian" and "Bataillean" strains of Surrealism." --Sholem Stein

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Surrealism was a 20th century art and cultural movement that began in the mid-1920s in Europe, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members. The works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur, however many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost with the works being an artefact, and leader André Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was above all a revolutionary movement. From the Dada activities of World War I Surrealism was formed with the most important center of the movement in Paris and from the 1920s spreading around the globe, impacting many other fields.



The word Surreal dates from 1936, and is actually a back-formation from surrealism (from sur (French for super)+realism).

It means bizarre or dreamlike, fantastic and incongruous.

Origin of the term

In May 1917, Guillaume Apollinaire coined the term "Surrealism" in the program notes describing the ballet Parade which was a collaborative work by Jean Cocteau, Erik Satie, Pablo Picasso and Léonide Massine:

"From this new alliance, for until now stage sets and costumes on one side and choreography on the other had only a sham bond between them, there has come about, in Parade, a kind of super-realism ('sur-réalisme'), in which I see the starting point of a series of manifestations of this new spirit ('esprit nouveau')."

Bataillean vs Bretonian Surrealism

Bretonian and Bataillean strains of Surrealism

Breton was obviously the driving force behind surrealism, and he ran the movement in a dictatorial style, even expelling several of its members. Several of these ex-members started adhering to Georges Bataille's subversive "Bataillean" surrealism and the latter's journal Documents.

See also

By field

By region

Surrealist groups


The Americas


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