In Ms. Makol’s Art 1 class, freshmen recently explored Surrealism. Surrealism is an art movement that started in the 1920s in Paris, in which literary and visual artists tapped the creative potential of the subconscious and dreams to create works of art. Surrealists were inspired by psychologist Sigmund Freud’s research about what dreams and free association could reveal about a person’s inner thoughts. Surrealist artists experimented with different ways to break societal norms of what was considered acceptable through performances, writing, and visual arts. Artists tried new mediums such as reciting dreams, drawing automatically without thinking, and juxtaposing different images to make a collage.
One of the original surreal games we played in class was called exquisite corpse. This classroom game has been played by surreal artists dating back to the 1920s. To play the game, students folded a piece of paper into three sections so that each person had his/her own section and allowed for two other people to play. Each person drew one third of the human body at a time (head, torso, or legs), and folded back their section so the next person only saw the very edge to connect the next section. One of the most exciting parts of the game was when students unfolded the paper to reveal a bizarre, unexpected figure. The oddness or dream-like quality that emerged from a game similar to exquisite corpse is one of the major qualities of surreal artwork.
The other major type of surreal art is automatism, or making unplanned doodles, to see what images can be revealed by a person’s subconscious mind. In the International Baccalaureate surrealism unit, students played several short surreal games and were then able to decide what to make for a final surreal artwork, inspired by their experimentation. Many students were inspired by specific games such as ink splatter and dream recall, while others were excited to make something unique and dream-like from their imagination. Either way, the IB surrealism unit helped students generate ideas for how their works of art could communicate different messages.