Reflections · André Breton and the birth of surrealism

André Breton: Surrealist manifesto 1924

webster dictionary: Surrealism;

‘the principles, ideals, or practice of producing fantastic or incongruous imagery or effects in art, literature, film, or theater by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations’
Breton’s definition:
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 thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern‘. (Breton, 1924.)

To place Breton in context, he undertakes medical studies at the turn of the the early nineteen hundreds, shortly before the outbreak of the first world war. Breton in located to various different hospitals, working as a psychiatric nurse and serving as intern. There he begins it seems to form an interest in Freudian analysis and finds something of a marvel in ‘mad people’. They are in fact, according to Breton, onto something that is perhaps closer to reality than we might think: ‘facing the madness of the patients he meets, and obsessed with the Freudian psychoanalysis, Breton discovered what’s found in the madness is a creative force’. (Arts3 network, date unknown.)

His surrealist ideas begin to develop and we can see that much of what was happening in France at a similar time within the french intelligentsia was related to the vision of needing to revolutionise society and break down old values to create a more liberal open and free society.

Listening to and studying a little, Breton’s surrealist manifesto we start to see that the origins of the surrealist movement was trying to re-dress an imbalance, perhaps starting with the Enlightenment? In initiating his work and breaking away from the Dada movement to which he was initially affiliated, the founding manifesto was defined by these words: ‘pure psychic automatism…’ This automatic writing process was considered by Breton as one of the main tools for accessing, perhaps, deeper forces of mind.

It would seem that the scientific materialism of our times denies to some extent the less conscious or subconscious aspects of our being. Surrealism is looking to point out that the dream state, exploring perceptions of mind, exploring psychology (particularly based upon Freud) and other influences, are much more powerful and interesting to our knowledge and development to the merely rational intellectual processes.


Breton, A. Surrealist Manifesto (1924) [online] [accessed: February 2020]

Arts3 Network: André Breton, father of surrealism [online] [accessed, February 2020]

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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