Saturday, 23 January 2010

Andre Breton - (1896 -1966) Surreallism and Painting

I have been impressed by the surrealists and their ability too confront what we take for granted in the name of art,for a while now,their freedom for me offers immediacy with their imagination and dazzling flair and their anarchistic search for freedom in art.
Who were these surrealists . I have often been blindingly confused between them and the dadaists, what was their difference, was it as simple as pure ideology. Can they be seperated or were they like two peas in the same pod? Both bent on confusion, trying to destroy all art forms that came before them.Sometimes all art leads too another, all gives life, indiscipline verses the opposite - do we dream in color or is it totally by chance! Seekers of truth in search of liberty.
Chief protaganist among the surrealists was Andre Breton,, a poet and essayist, who also played an important role in early Dadaist publications and manifestations in Paris. In 1921 he broke away from the Paris Dadaists and in 1924 he published the first Surrealist Manifesto, and followed this with a second one in 1924. His work stimulated the next generation on questions of contemprary art, literature , aesthetics and taste. The supreme incarnation of orthodox surrealism and the jealous guardian of its sanctuary.
The following is reprinted from " Le Surrealisme et La Peinture, 1927.

"The eye exists in a natural state. The marvels of the earth seen from one hundred feet above, the marvels of the sea from hundred feet below, can call as witness only the wid eye which relates all colour to the rainbow. It presides over the conventional exchange of signals apparently required for the navigation of the mind. But who will set up the scale of vision? There are those things which I have already seen many times, and which others likewise tell me they have seen, things I think I can recognise whether or not they matter to me -for example, the facade of the Paris Opera, a horse, the horizon;there are those things which I have rarely seen and have not always chosen to forget ( or not to forget, whichever the case may be); there are those things which having gazed at them in vain, I never dare to see, which are all the things which others have seen and say they have seen, and which they can or cannot make me see by suggestion; there are also those things which I see differently from everyone else, and those things which I am beginning to see but are not visible. And that is not all.
Corresponding to thes varying degrees of sensation are spiritual realizations so precise and distinct as to permit mr to grant plastic expression an importance which I shall always deny to musical expression, which is the most profoundly confusing of all. In fact, auditory images are inferior to visual images not only in clarity but in precision, and , with all due respect to some megalomanics , they do not serve to strengthen the idea of human grandeur. So may night continue to fall upon the orchestra, and may I, who am still seeking something from the world, be left to my silent contemplation, with my eyes open or closed, in broad daylight.
Now I confess that I have passed like a madman through the slippery halls of museums. But I am not the only one. In spite of some marvellous glances thrown to me by woman similar in every way to those of today, I have not for an instant been fooled by what those subterranean and immovable walls had to offer me of the unknown. Without remorse I abandond some charming suppliants. There were too many stages at once upon which I felt no urge to act. Passing by all those religious compositions, all those rustic allegories, I irresistibly lost the sense of my own role. Outside, the street prepared a thousand more real enchantments for me. I am not to blame if I cannot resist a profound lassitude when confrontrd by the interminable parade of rivals for the colossal Prix de Rome in which nothing, neither the subject nor the manner in which it is treated, remains optional.
I do no mean to say that no emotion can be extricated from a painting of " Leda ", that an agonising sun cannot set in a scene of Roman Palaces, or even that it is impossible to impart some resemblance of eternal morality to the illustration of a fable as ridiculous as " Death and the Woodcutter". I think only that genius gains nothing from following these beaten paths and indirect routes. At least such stakes are fruitless. Nothing is more dangerous to to take libeties with than liberty.
But once we have passed the stage of emotion for emotion's sake, remember that for us in this day and age it is reality itself which is at stake. How can we be expected to content ourselves with the fugitive perplexity brought to us by such and such a work of art? There is not one work of art which holds up against our integral primitivism in this respect.When I know where the terrible struggle within me between living and likely to live will end, when I have lost all hope of enlarging the scope of reality - up to now completely confined - to stupefying proportios ( by my own measure ), when my imagination retires within itself and coincides only with my memory, I shall gladly grant myself, like the others, a few relative satisfactions. I shall go over to the "embellishers". I shall forgive them. But not before!


Early in 1925, several months after the publication of the first surrealist Manifesto and several years after that of the first surrealist texts ,the possibility of a painting which could satisfy surrealist demands demands was still being discussed.While some denied that a surrealist painting could exist, others were inclined to think that it could be found in embryonic form in certain recent works, or even that it existed already. Aside from whatever it might have owed at this time to Chirico in the direction of dream, to Duchamp in the acceptance of chance, to Arp , to Man Ray in his photographic "Rayograms", to Klee in the direction of (partial) automatism, we can easily see now that surrealism was already in full force in the work of Max Ernst. In fact, surrealism found itself immediately in his 1920 collages, which expressed an absolutely virgin proposition of visual organzation, corresponding to what Lautreamont and Rimbaud had sought in poetry. I remember the emotion - never again experienced in the same way - which seized Tzara , Aragon, Soupault and myself at their discovery; I happened to be at Picabia's when they arrived from Cologne. The external object had broken with its customary surroundings, its component parts were somehow emancipated from the object in such a way as to set up entirely new relationships with other elements, escaping from the principle of reality while still drawing upon the real plain ( and overthrowing the idea of correspondence). Guided by the prodigious rays which he was the first to make visible, Max Ernst in his first canvases agreed to take great risks. Each one is dependent to a minimum upon the others, and the general effect is in response to the same conception as the poems written by Apollinaire from 1913 to the war, each of which carries the weight of an event in itself. Later, when he arrived at some assurances of the profound meaning of his course and the means of its realization, Max Ernst still did not swerve from the urgent necessity of forever " finding something new", as Baudelaire put it. His work - as its power has steadily increased over these last twenty years - has no equivalent from the point of view of will.
Automatism, inherited from the mediums, remains one of the two major trends of surrealism. Since it has excited and still excites the most violent polemics, it is not too late to attemopt tp penetrate a little further into its function and to try to put across a decisive argument in its favour. In terms of modern psychlogical research, we know that we have been led to compare the construction of a bird's ' nest to the beginning of a melody which tends towards a certain characteristic conclusion. A melody imposes its own structure, in as much as we distinguish ( in spite of their interference) the sounds that belong to it and those that are foreign to it, and for all that is percieved by its own quality, which is totally different from the sum of its component qualities. I maintain that graphic as well as verbal automatism - without damage to the profound individual tensions which it is capable of manifesting and to some extent of resolving - is the only mode of expression which fully satisfies the eye or ear by achieving rhythmic unity ( just as recognisable in the automatic drawing and text as in the melody or the nest). It is only structure that responds to the non-distinction - better and better established - between sentient and intellect functions, which is why it alone can equally satisfy the mind. And I agrre that automatism can enter into composition, in painting as in poetry, with certain premeditated intentions; but there is a great risk of departing from surrealism if the automatism ceases to flow underground.A work cannot be considered surrealist unless the artist strains to reach the total psychological scope of which consciousness is onl a small part. Freud has shown that their prevails at this " unfathomable " depth a total abscence of cotradiction, a new nmobility of the emotional blocks caused by repression, a timelessness and a substitution of psychic reality for external reality, all subject to the principle of pleasure alone. Automatism leads straight to this region. The other route offered to surrealism, the so-called " trompe l'oeil' ( wherin lies its weakness ) fixation on dream images, has been confirmed by experience to be far less safe, and even very susceptible to risks of being led astray.
When Dali introduced himself to surrealism in 1929, nothing strictly personal had been augured by his previous work. On the the theoretical plane he proceeded yo change that by means of borrowing and juxtapositions, the most striking rxample of which is the amalgam - under the name of " paranoic critical activity " - of the lessons of Piero di Cosimo and Leonardo da Vinci ( absorbing oneself in the contemplation of a blob of spittle or an old wall until the eye begins to percieve a second world, which can be equally well revealed by painting), and of methods - along the lines of " frottage " - already recommended by Max Ernst to " intensify the irritability of the mental Faculties". In spite of an undeniably ingenuity in his staging, Dali's venture, ill served by an ultra-retrograde technigue and discredited by a cynical indifference regarding ways of imposing himself on the public, has shown signs of panic for a long time now and has only been salvaged momentarily by the organization of its own vulgarities. Today it flounders in academicism -an academicism declared classicism on its own authority alone - and in any case it has held no interest at all for surrealism since 1936.

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