At the end of World War I (1914 - 1918), European youth were enlightened -- none more so than young artists, who tended toward both pacifism and cynicism. They refused to spend their gifts glorifying war and the politicians who had led tens of thousands to their deaths. Instead, the most gifted artists flocked around André Breton in Paris, as he called for a revolution in painting, drama and literature. André Breton (1896-1966) was a French writer, poet, and surrealist theorist, and is best known as the main founder of surrealism.(1)
During the period of 1920’s and 1930’s, surrealism became a major force in artistic movement and dreams were used as a main source of creation. Therefore, as a mode of escape, surrealists used dreams more expressly than any school of art before. Breton always invited Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and Man Ray to his apartment on rue Fontaine where they recounted dreams to one another. Breton’s “Manifesto of Surrealism”(*i) proclaimed the “omnipotence of the dream” and described the new movement as the “resolution of the two states, dreaming and reality, which were so seemingly contradictory into a kind of absolute reality--a surreality.”(2)
Many artists painted specific dream images, and all of them use characteristics of the dream world such as space that has no depth or extends to infinity, and juxtaposition of objects which do not belong together.(3)
A few titles which reflect the topic are: The Persistence of Memory, The Dream and the Happy Unicorn by Salvador Dalí; The Dream of Two Children Frightened by a Nightingale by Max Ernst and Landscape from a Dream by Paul Nash.
Picture: The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí, 1931
Salvador Dalí was born on the 11th of May, 1904 and had died in 1989. He was a Spanish painter, sculptor, photographer, and designer. He studied in Madrid and Barcelona before moving to Paris, where, in the late 1920s, after reading Sigmund Freud’s writings on the erotic significance of subconcious imagery, he joined the Surrealist group of artists. Once Dalí hit on this method, his painting style matured with extraordinary rapidity, and from 1929 to 1937 he produced the paintings that made him the world’s best known Surrealist artist. His paintings describe a dream world in which commonplace objects, painted with precise accordance with details, are juxtaposed and deformed in bizarre ways. Among his best-known works is Persistence of Memory (1931; Museum of Modern Art, New York City) with its strangely melting clocks. Dalí used dreamlike perception of space and dream-inspired symbols such as melting watches and huge metronomes.
Picture: The Dream by Salvador Dalí, 1947
The Dream was painted by Salvador Dalí in oil on canvas during 1947. The style of the painting is surrealist and the theme represented is illusion. The painting is currently displayed at Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueras.
"Every morning when I wake up I experience an exquisite joy - - the joy of being Salvador Dalí - - and I ask myself in rapture, ‘What wonderful things this Salvador Dalí is going to accomplish today?’ ” – Salvador Dalí.
Picture: Two Children Frightened by a Nightingale by Max Ernst, 1924
Max Ernst was born on the 2nd of April, 1891, in Germany, and died in 1976. He first enrolled in the University at Bonn in 1909 to study philosophy, but soon abandoned this pursuit to concentrate on art. After World War I, Ernst joined the surrealist movement in Paris and then became one of the founders of surrealism. Apart from the medium of collage, for which he is well known, Ernst developed other devices to express his fantastic vision. In frottage he rubbed black chalk on paper held against various materials such as leaves, wood, and fabrics to achieve bizarre effects. He was also the author of several volumes of collage novels. A note of whimsy often characterizes his dreamlike landscapes while other works reveal an allegorical imagination. Two Children Frightened by a Nightingale and several other works are in the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
Picture: Landscape from a Dream by Paul Nash, 1936-1938
Paul Nash was born on the 11th of May, 1889, in London, and died in 1946. He was educated at St. Paul school and the Slade School of Art. Nash was an Official War Artist during both the First and Second World Wars. The painting Landscape from a Dream marks the climax of Nash’s personal response to Surrealism, of which he had been aware since the late 1920s. As the title suggests, it echoes the Surrealists’ fascination with Freud’s theories of the power of dreams to reveal the unconscious. Nash explained that various elements were symbolic: the self-regarding hawk belongs to the material world, while the spheres reflected in the mirror refer to the soul. Typically, Nash set this scene on the coast of Dorset, unearthing the uncanny within the English landscape.
The ways which the above artists obtained surreal images from dreams is different from one to another. For example, the following method describes how Salvador Dalí obtains lots of surreal images.
The Sleep Onset Stage- Slumber With a Key
"In this posture, you must hold a heavy key which you keep suspended, delicately pressed between the extremities of the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Under the key you will previously have placed a plate upside down on the floor. Having made these preparations, you will have merely to let yourself be progressively invaded by a serene afternoon sleep, like the spiritual drop of anisette of your soul rising in the cube of sugar of your body. The moment the key drops from your fingers, you may be sure that the noise of its fall on the upside-down plate will awaken you…” (4)
-- Salvador Dalí
Dalí obtained lots of surreal images this way. In a volume, Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship(*ii), Dalí dispensed advice to aspiring artists. He claimed that the greatest potential inspiration lay in the dream. “What you prevent yourself from doing and force yourself not to do, the dream will do with all the lucidity of desire”, says Dalí. He found that many vivid images occur just as the moment we are beginning to fall asleep, hold great potential for art creation. Those images are what psychologists call “hypnagogic imagery” -- images occurring at the moment we are beginning to fall asleep, or simply translated to sleep onset, have helped Dalí develop lots of great art.
Surrealism was mainly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories about subconscious, but the movement was also very much a reaction against the “reason” that had led Europe into the devastations of World War I. However, the movement was greatly diminished after World War II.
Although surrealism decreased after World War II, however dream continues to influence mankind to create. Reports show that dreams contribute not only to surrealist, in fact, after the movement of surrealism, there are lots of great modern artists, architects and photographers declaring that dream contributes them to work out their project and find out their artistic vision. The following section shows more about these cases.
(to continue - 4.3 Other Inspirations of Dreams.)
*i) - Manifesto of Surrealism – It was written by Andre Breton and published in 1924. This document defines Surrealism as: “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express - - verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner - - the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
*ii) - Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship – Rare, important volume in which famed Surrealist expounds (in Dali inimitably eccentric fashion) on what painting should be, the history of painting, what is good and bad painting, the merits of specific artists, and more. Includes his 50 "secrets" for mastering the craft, including "the secret of the painter's pointed mustaches." Filled with sensible artistic advice, lively personal anecdotes, academic craftsmanship, and the artist's own marginal drawings.