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How Surrealism Works


The Surrealist Artists

The best-known Surrealist today is probably Salvador Dalí, but there were many artists in the Surrealist movement, both officially and unofficially. Here are a few examples:

  • Max Ernst, an early adherent to the genre, was particularly fond of two techniques that fostered spontaneity, one called decalcomania and the other called frottage, which he helped pioneer. Both methods involve an element of unpredictability; for frottage, you create textured designs by making rubbings over substances like sand or grit; and for decalcomania, you press paint between two pieces of paper, making mirrored blot images. Ernst was also fond of collage as a technique for combining dissonant objects.
  • René Magritte was a master at making nonsensical juxtapositions in his paintings. From a castle perched on a floating rock to a toy train steaming out of a fireplace, as well as all manner of oddly devised people, Magritte had a flair for devising unexpected schemes.
  • Frida Kahlo is often considered a Surrealist for her vivid plunges into scenarios depicting the tumultuous psychological experiences that came with a life haunted by physical suffering.
  • Man Ray helped popularize photography as an artistic medium as opposed to a purely practical endeavor. One of his techniques involved placing objects directly onto a piece of photographic paper and exposing it to light. He liked to call the results "rayographs." Ray was one of the many jack-of-all-trade Surrealists: he was a painter, sculptor, philosopher, essayist, poet and filmmaker.
  • Joan Miró was one of the painters who, while not officially affiliated with the Surrealist doctrine, did paint in the Surrealist style. He specialized in using automatism to create biomorphic forms (shapes that resemble living creatures), and other abstractions.

For more on art movements and world-class artists like Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso, follow the links on the next page.