The beginner's guide to Surrealism

Floating red cape and bright halo portraying Surrealism movement

Surrealist art is remarkable because it subverts what we expect from art, resulting in interesting and original designs. Today, artists creating contemporary prints and paintings still incorporate Surrealism to produce state-of-the-art pieces that spark new conversations. It is the Surrealism movement that influenced a lot of the artwork we know and love, and that ensures art is interpreted in many different ways.

In this article, we hope to provide you with the information you have been looking for about the Surrealism art movement and the Surrealism artists who contributed to its history. Read on to uncover more and learn how to appreciate the pieces that hang so proudly in famous art galleries.

What is Surrealism?

Surrealism examples of art with blue, orange, pink and white splatters


Although simply put Surrealism is an artistic style, in reality it is so much more than that. That is what makes defining the Surrealism movement so difficult; there is no particular set of themes or techniques that go into creating designs in this style. This is because Surrealism is personal to every artist, and each individual expresses their inner thoughts through their Surrealist artwork.

Creative freedom is at the root of Surrealism. One of the widely acknowledged characteristics of Surrealism is to create illustration art that conveys an artist’s innermost thoughts as soon as they spring to mind. Surrealist art is wonderfully arbitrary, freeing and unique. You can expect to enjoy out-of-the-ordinary patterns, swirls, brushwork, textures, and ideas that have clearly been created straight from the artist’s unfiltered imagination. That is the true beauty of Surrealism, and this particular thought process when curating art is referred to as automatism - but what is this exactly?

Facts about Surrealism: Automatism is fundamental

Automatism is an uncensored type of expression, and one that is liberating. Surrealism artists will use automatism by channelling their dreams, ideas, and thought processes into their art. It relates to the artistic technique whereby an artist takes on a completely spontaneous approach to their work by rejecting conscious control.

When did Surrealism start?

Taupe wavy Surrealist art piece with swirls


To start right at the beginning, the art movement Dada, also known as Dadaism, influenced Surrealism. This was a revolutionary art movement that was established in 1916 in Zurich as a reaction to World War I (1914-1918). Those involved in the Dada movement at the time strongly believed that war had occurred because of two things: extreme capitalist values and extreme rational thought. This was subsequently reflected in Dadaists’ work, which conveyed absurdity and irrationality.

After the war, Dadaists started experimenting with what we now call Surrealist automatism. This method welcomed the unconscious mind to run free, bringing a sense of escapism. This led to the rise of Surrealism artists and their work as we know it today.

André Breton is an important figure to make note of; he was the founder of Surrealism itself. Being an original member of Dada, he led the Surrealist movement which officially began in 1924, later publishing his Surrealist Manifesto which would bring attention to the creative movement.

What to expect from Surrealism examples?

Colourful patchwork art of female body on pink wall

As time has passed, Surrealism has created an intriguing collection of designs. This ranges from expertly spontaneous paintings and drawings of animals and people to unusual sculpture arrangements, as well as fictional landscapes that subvert the norms of what we expect from nature artwork.

Notable Surrealism artists

To gain further insight into Surrealism art, it is important to familiarise yourself with the iconic creators that paved the way for this movement. Look out for work from Surrealism artists such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Michael Cheva, and Joan Miró, who produced stunning yet wildly bizarre artwork admired by many.

Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was another distinguished artist who created Surrealist art, claiming it portrayed the “frankest expression of [her]self”.

Other superb Surrealism artists include the likes of:

  • René Magritte
  • Max Ernst
  • Leonora Carrington
  • Giorgio de Chirico

Explore the Surrealism movement further

Floating, transparent cube with light hues against blue background

After learning about the inner workings of the Surrealism movement, you will have a better understanding of what it entails, when it originated, and how it has influenced artwork today.

If you previously asked yourself “when did Surrealism start?”, the answer should now be much clearer. When you next venture to an art gallery, ensure you study the different illustrations and designs created by Surrealism artists and take what you have discovered from this article with you to appreciate Surrealist art fully.

In the meantime, visit our blog and browse through articles discussing other important art movements, such as our pieces on Italian artists and the history of British art. Then explore our vast art collection and buy our prints to hang in your home.