Freudian Thought and the Surrealist Art World

The Surrealist movement borrowed many concepts from Freudian thought, especially in regards to the power of subconscious creation. It was the Surrealists’ aim to create a “pure psychic automatismâÂ?¦intended to express..the true process of thoughtâÂ?¦free form the exercise of reason and from any aesthetic or moral purpose.” However even though it was possible to express subconscious desires through the use of “automatic handwriting” from the subconscious to paper, this concept was not practical in its application to art forms other than writing. In painting it was necessary to incorporate artist control and conscious thought.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Max Ernst

Max Ernst was a Surrealist that developed several new techniques that advanced the style of Surrealism. His works often incorporated collage with “frottage.” Frottage is a form of rubbing that acquires textures by making a rubbing from some form of relief like bark or dried flowers. He used these textures to add realistic richness to his paintings. He also incorporated a technique known as “decalcomania” which is an oil paint application technique that starts with the direct application of the oil paint to a surface, and then transferring the tint from this surface to the painting through the use of pressure. In addition to these techniques, Ernst relied a great deal on chance effects produced by variations in his stains, and the interactions of various paint application techniques. The culmination of all these techniques and the conscious orchestration by Ernst gave the final painting a romantic dream-world realism that expressed his subconscious ideas and desires. One example of this culmination of textures and dreamlike orchestration was seen in his painting La Toilette de la Mariee (The Dressing of the Bride).Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was another Surrealist, who used the hardships of her life to create spectacular symbolic works. The symbolism portrayed in her paintings was often so personal, that if her background was not known, it was difficult to attain the painting’s true meaning. For example, in her painting Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace, the first appearance of the painting seems reminiscent of other Mexican religious works, however once her biographical information related to this time period is examined, it is easier to see how this is more of a depiction of humiliation from her divorce from her husband Diego Rivera, then it is a tribute to religion. The dangling humming bird from the necklace of thorns is a “traditional amulet worn in Mexico by people seeking love.” The symbolism of the painting is further enriched by the black cat, symbolizing death, and the monkey, symbolizing the devil. In total the portrait symbolizes Frida Kahlo’s desire to be resurrected from her humiliation and romantic abandonment, and to find love once again.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½


Janson, H.W. & Janson, Anthony F. (2004). History of Art: The Western Tradition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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