Surrealism: The Appeal of the Weird

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Surrealist paintings and prints rank among the most popular in private collections and as décor for contemporary homes. In fact, many surrealist artists are household names – a testament to the enduring appeal of this dreamy and often weird art movement. Such as artists include the likes of André Breton, Salvador Dali, and Frida Kahlo to name a few.

But what exactly makes surrealism so appealing? In this post, The Canvas Art Factory discusses the brief history of this Avant-garde movement and its enduring appeal.

The Surreal Movement

In 1924, André Breton coined the term ‘surrealism’ in ‘The First Manifesto of Surrealism’. Taking primary influence from the writings of Sigmund Freud, Breton established a goal for this new movement – the liberation of thought, human language and experience from what he saw as the oppressiveness of modern rationalism.

This new movement was a successor to Dadaism, which was a movement born from the violence of World War I. Like its predecessor, surrealism sought to critique what its pioneers saw as a corrupt, violent and hypocritical society. It was also a literary movement first before it extended to the visual arts.

Decline and Lasting Influence

Surrealism was meant to both explore and shock the subconscious and utilised dream-like imagery to challenge the establishment. Breton, who was a devoted Marxist, used the movement as an instrument of revolution to liberate the human mind from what he saw as ultra-rationalist and bourgeois thinking. What he didn’t expect was how his movement would do more than just revolutionise his politics – it would revolutionise the art world.

By the middle of World War II, Avant-garde movements – including surrealism, began to fall out of favour in the public eye, and artistic and literary tastes began to swing towards the less revolutionary and often romanticised Abstract Expressionism.

The Surreal Legacy

Surrealism was instrumental in influencing and paving the way for other modern and contemporary art movements. These include surrealist variants such as Automatism, the predecessor of what we now call Psychedelic Art, and Abstract Expressionism.

The influence of surrealism extends beyond these movements though and continues to influence modern artists. The Internet Meme culture, for example, has been described many times as ‘Neo-Dada’ while the more unsavoury and unscrupulous ones show elements of surrealism especially in their critique of modern-day politics.

The Appeal of the Weird

What makes surrealism appealing even to the casual art observer is how dream-like its visual presentation is. Surrealist pioneers such as Breton and Dali were careful in crafting their masterpieces so that anyone can discern the subconscious meaning behind what’s being presented by tapping to their subconscious and inciting feelings using imagery from dreams.

The fact that the movement itself was born with revolutionary, anti-rationalist and anti-bourgeois ideals mean that surrealism is an art movement meant to be appreciated by everyone and its hidden meaning discerned by those who can see beyond the rigidness of the rational world.

The long-term appeal of surrealism can also be traced to the rise and spread of the American Arts, which were influenced heavily by the surrealist art movement. While the movement itself was born in Europe, its popularity and influence in the American art form mean that it has become almost synonymous with what we now call as the contemporary art movement.

Surrealism’s transcendent nature also means that later art styles such as Abstract expressionism and Psychedelic still embody many of the superficial qualities of its predecessor, specifically in its adherence to natural creativity and dream-like imagery. Even Pop Art, which has a distinctly different non-abstract nature still has traces of surreal imagery as part of its signature aesthetics.

Ultimately, what makes surrealism such a popular choice as decorative art stems from our curiosity and desire for the new and novel. Human nature is intrinsically tied to the concept of freedom and breaking boundaries. When we look at a surreal painting or wall art, we immediately tap into our subconscious to discern its meaning. At that moment, our thoughts extend beyond what the world dictates as rational until we figure out its meaning in the irrational.


At The Canvas Art Factory, we have exclusive canvas prints and wall art from award-winning and local artists who are continuing the exciting tradition of innovating the surreal and the abstract. Visit our showroom or call us today at +61 7 3383 2880 to learn more.