In a review of a surrealism exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art, Sanford Schwartz comments on the dilution in the meaning of the word “surreal”: “Surrealism has entered the language as a synonym for almost anything that seems odd, uncanny, or freaky. For some, the very word connotes a profane, or carnivalesque, lifting of the lid on hidden, even repressed, thoughts and feelings.”

Originally, surrealism was “romantic and revolutionary in its goals,” aiming “for radically new approaches to writing, art, and experience itself.” Schwartz traces the origins to Andre Breton: “It was his background as a scientist of sorts that helped give the movement its character of an ever-changing, and always carefully monitored, experiment in living. Breton embodied a paradox of Surrealism. His role was to instigate and welcome the spontaneous, the illogical, and the inexplicable. His goal, it would seem, was to extend personal liberty.”

It’s intriguing how modern art movements that want to buck the establishment parrot and extend modernity’s credo of “personal liberty.”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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