Having read Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” I can see the interest Surrealist found in the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is mystery that is always going to contrast our conscious mind. Surrealist didn’t understand why we should censor our id. Primitive senses are not controlled by the super-ego and that they believed to be true freedom and a purer sense. Surrealist used Freudian theories in their art by giving full creative power to their id, although in actuality this is never possible, as the super-ego can never be fully deleted for any conscious thought.
Each artist used different techniques to attempt to find the purest id thoughts possible, these included freely talking of their obsessions (often phallic), any dream sequences they could recall, and symbolism. Other techniques included folding a blank page into five pieces and letting each draw a part of the human body all the way down to the feet. They also used a technique called automatic writing, which was much of the same ideas as folding a blank page where each writes a word that ends with a story being written. These ideas transformed into creating uncanny or “das unheimich” art. They unleashed the human psyche and the battleground of rational and irrational thoughts.
In 1924 the Surrealist Manifesto was written to being the Surrealist movement. Many artists that were apart of the Dada movement joined the Surrealist and many of their radical techniques were incorporated. They felt that by using some of the Dada techniques they could perhaps spark the unconscious mind. It was difficult to achieve and many artist tried everything they could to make every action automatic so that the super-ego did not interfere.
The Surrealist artist that perhaps didn’t know he was a Surrealist that I found most interesting was Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico who made Melancholy and Mystery of a Street in 1914. He made it a very interesting scape by juxtaposing buildings and horizon lines in a way that makes you feel like you’re in a very enclosed space. You’re definitely in Italy in perhaps a very prestigious part of town, where there are very large buildings. It is most likely very early in the morning because the streets are empty, except for the man with his walking stick and the young girl with her toy. To your right something has escaped from its wagon. It is very sinister as you are quite not sure what to make of the juxtaposition of the young playful child and the man about to turn the corner. The beautiful gold being shadowed by dark figures is frightening. Especially in modern times with being taught from such a young age not to talk to strangers and even your next-door neighbor could be a serial killer. It is a dream sequence almost but a very clean dream sequence and one that seems to make more sense to me. Although I don’t feel comfortable truly attempting to analyze it because you could never really understand what it is. It is a thought that was made perhaps during a dream and it is probably so deeply personal to the artist that he may not even understand where it came from.
One of my favorite methods of expression is sculpture, especially seeing after seeing Constatin Brancusi. He reminds me a lot of Surrealist because he wanted to rework his sculptures that is very similar to re-dreaming ideas and having reoccurring fetishes and fantasies. Sculpture is a very primitive technique that from personal experience I know you can never really force the raw materials to go in the exact direction that you want them to. These raw materials truly have a mind of their own, and that is very similar to Surrealist and they want to have in a way the least amount of conscious control as possible. Also there is the very obvious phallic Princess X that was created by Brancusi. He had strong connections to this idea of Freud’s relationship and analysis of the French Princess it is dedicated to. It interesting to see a man next to Princess X and how uncomfortable his unconscious mind makes him, Princess X staring him the face. I think sculpture works better that perhaps painting because it is three-dimensional and it is right in front of you and it is real and there isn’t anyway to just flip the page or pretend you never saw it.
Surrealism is very interesting but also very easy to get lost in. I don’t know how these 20th century Surrealist were able to totally give their lives to this Freudian idea of the Id, Ego, and the Super-Ego. It is amusing and almost very frightening of an idea. Especially into today’s world were many want more control over their space and their bodies. I would have to agree with those who reject Freud’s notions and believe that dreams are just fragments of our imagination juxtaposed in very random ways. Although it is fun to be able to pick at Surrealist brain’s as they allowed us to by giving us a deeper level of artwork then ever seen before.