Surrealism

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

Surrealism

Surrealism is a movement that has influenced my own work and I wanted to gather inspiration by researching this genre and also gain a deeper understanding of what surrealist art is. I have recently become interested in feminist ideologies and historical events in the art world that have changed gender inequalities; this interest has led me to research women specifically in the world of surrealism. For this investigation I wanted to dissect the idea of women as muses and objects in surrealist imagery as well as discuss how female artists have changed our perception of gender. The voyeuristic ‘male gaze’ and misogyny is a major theme I am challenging throughout this investigation and my research will hopefully conclude with how women are trying to overcome this. 

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First of all, what is surrealism? This is an artistic movement that began in the 1920s and the aim was to resolve the previously contradictory condition of dream and reality. Surrealism allows artists to express “the real workings of thought in the absence of any controls exercised by reason and as pure, non conformism.” [6] Surrealism is described to be an unreflected indulgence in subconscious material. Artwork of this genre is made up of an incredibly complicated network of sources and influences. The works of art are often characterised by a dream like perception of space, juxtapositions of subject matter and fantastic imagery.

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Eroticism was a major surrealist preoccupation; which involved discussions of sexuality within art. It is often argued that surrealism is a misogynistic movement which exploits women as muses, and makes them the object of a voyeuristic or even sadistic male gaze. What I want to know is how did women insert themselves into the male surrealist discourse and start painting women in an empowering light.

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First of all I want to talk about some of the pioneers of surrealism and how modern feminist culture has critiqued the work produced by male artists such as Man Ray, Dali and Delvaux. Man Ray and the coat stand 1920. Was he turning her into an object or was he protesting against her own view of herself as an object? 

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Dali and Gala. Dali always lights Gala’s body harshly from a single source, accentuating imperfections for example the loose flesh on her arms. Her hands are always capable, grasping or demonstrating. Her shoulders are always slightly bowed. Gala is the best known muse of the surrealist movement. 

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Delvaux’s dreamscapes; all the women are identical. 

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Freud in fact describes the male surrealist as having a fear castration and the also fears the dissolution of his own ego. In order to overcome these fears he fetishises the female figure; he deforms and disfigures her in order to reestablish his own ego. This is one explanation for the often misyogynistic depiction of women in male surrealist art.

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I want to highlight a number of female surrealist artists who vary in origins and nationalities but who are connected through surrealism. The surrealist movement in art is most often identified with male artists, many of whom cast women in their paintings as sexual objects or symbolic ideals. Women's art is concealed, marginalised, undervalued and often openly disdained. Female artists have had to travel an challenging path to find proper recognition for their work and to have it valued and appreciated in the same way as male artists.

Lee Miller was once the subject of the male gaze in Man Rays work but Millers insistence on her own freedom led to her refusal to be positioned as an erotic object. 

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Rene Magritte, Les Jour Gigantesques which translates as ‘The Titanic days’. This painting shows a nude woman struggling with a male attacker who exists only within the contours of her own body.

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Other artists that I looked at when researching female surrealism are: Kati Horna, Francesca Woodman and Cindy Sherman. All of which I have taken inspiration from and used in my own physical outcome to this research project. 

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Unwittingly, surrealism became the source of two currents of creativity; the ‘imagined’ which arose from intellect and was created primarily by men, and the ‘intuited’; which arose from experience and was generated mostly by women. Women creating surrealist work opened up a whole new dialogue that gradually changed the relationship between genders [3]. Female artists made the process of inserting themselves as Other into the male surrealist discourse. 

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Portraiture was an ideal vehicle for exploring and redefining identity for women in the surrealist movement. Within that genre self-portraits were essential. Female body imagery is one of the elements of surrealist discourse most emphasised by male members of the movement, and most critiqued by contemporary feminists. Frida was an artist who lived in constant self-expression which is evident her self portraits. Within her portraits she chooses not to self identify with a particular sex but embodies both genders; by doing this she is constantly advocating for both sexes and ultimately this helped us deconstruct our false gender polarities. One example that demonstrates this is her monobrow, often seen as a masculine trait, she wears it proudly even though societal norms expect her to have separate eyebrows. 

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The role of photography in surrealism challenges the ambiguous relationship between photography as a document and photography used as a product of the imagination as well as technical experimentation. Within surrealism you can see creative techniques such as photo-montaging and photo collages which are created by physically cutting and sticking different photographs together. Postmodern, technological advances in software such as photoshop have replaced scissors and the physical cut and paste involved with photomontage and replaced it with clean, clear clicks. Surrealism in photography is a chance for the photographers imagination to run wild; well this is the case for me. What I love about about surrealism is the possibility to create something that we could not experience in daily life; therefore creating this hyperreality where anything is possible. It also gives the viewer a huge dimension to interpret what is going on in an image. 

To conclude surrealism was seemingly directed at the emancipation of the human sprit, but it represented only male aspirations and fantasies until a number of female artists began redefining its agenda in the late 1930’s. Female artists have transformed the female body to a site of resistance and creative energy. The art created by women also helped set the stage for the feminist movement by creating art that challenged established social institutions and gender boundaries. The concept of “woman” objectified by male needs was in direct conflict with the individual need for self-definition and free artistic expression. [3] I wanted to finish this project with a physical outcome showing a postmodern photographic depiction of surrealism featuring the female body, showing how surrealism with in photography is still very relevant and the liberation of female artists is still continuing. 

https://docs.google.com/a/my.westminster.ac.uk/presentation/d/1TLktlRrvBeGGXUFCbS_xb2Z8w-Z_15r1JN0SjQxP3G0/edit?usp=sharing

Reflection

Over all I think that the presentation went well; I was worried about technical problems I might have with the slide being online but it all went to plan. I feel like I got all the main points I wanted to get across to the audience and I also got some interesting feedback. We discussed the physical outcome which ended up portraying the vulnerability that the female muse once was; which wasn't what I initially wanted to show but when choosing the final image this is one that stood out to me. After the critique of the presentation I had some time to reflect on the content of this project and came to the conclusion that I was trying too hard to think of a rounded, finished outcome and I now accept the flaws and contradictions in the feminist discourse. The research I have done has given me a better understanding of surrealist art and artists as well as broadening my reading on feminism. If I was going to do anything differently next time I present a project in this way, I would include more audience participation and possibly have smaller reading cards allowing me to move around a bit move when Im speaking. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: December 16, 2014

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