fantasy and surrealism

"But first the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged; this I shall do by . . .melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid. If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."

--William Blake

"Elephants are contagious!"

--a 1925 proverb by Surrealist poets Benjamin Péret and Paul Éluard

The unconscious mind and dreams can be a rich source for understanding not only oneself, but human nature.

"Despite the widely-recognized failure of Freudian psychotherapy to heal disturbed people effectively and the rejection of many of his major theories Freud remains one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Freud's basic insight that our minds preserve memories and emotions which are not always consciously available to us has transformed the way humanity views itself ever since. Freud said that there had been three great humiliations in human history: Galileo's discovery that we were not the center of the universe, Darwin's discovery that we were not the crown of creation, and his own discovery that we are not in control of our own minds. The tendency of modern people to trace their problems to childhood traumas or other repressed emotions begins with Freud. One of Freud's more important discoveries is that emotions buried in the unconscious surface in disguised form during dreaming, and that the remembered fragments of dreams can help uncover the buried feelings. Whether the mechanism is exactly as Freud describes it, many people have derived insights into themselves from studying their dreams, and most modern people consider dreams emotionally significant, unlike our ancestors who often saw them either as divine portents or as the bizarre side-effects of indigestion. Freud argues that dreams are wish-fulfillments, and will ultimately argue that those wishes are the result of repressed or frustrated sexual desires. The anxiety surrounding these desires turns some dreams into nightmares."

--Paul Brians

Surrealism put the accent on freedom, starting with the freedom of the imaginary. Refusing to regard poetry in an aesthetic light or as a form of edification or consolation, Surrealists have identified it as a passionate risk-taking adventure involving nothing less than the emancipation of language. In their view poetry is humankind's fundamental experience and the true source of all knowledge, but it can come into being only by disrupting and breaking through what they regard as the debased, fragmented, and stultifying language of ordinary, "rational" discourse.

--Franklin Rosemont

Inquiry Questions

1) How do we distinguish the world of dreams or the unconscious mind from the "real" world?

3) How have artists represented or utilized the unconscious mind, dreams, or fantasy in the past?

3) How have artists interacted with other disciplines to understand the unconscious mind?

4) What would be some ways of exloring the theme of dreams in your own artwork?


1. Fantastic Illusions (2D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT X: Depth Cues)


Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, Claude Cahun, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Ted Joans, Rene Magritte, Roberto Matta, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy


Breton, Andre, Le Manifeste du Surréalisme (1924).

Freud, Sigmund, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).

Rosemont, Franklin (1973), Surrealism in Literature: Writing the Marvelous, Britannica article.

Surrealist Women: An International Anthology, Edited by Penelope Rosemont (1998).