Though art has always been a source of inspiration for different ideologies with symbolism and subliminal political and religious messages, it is arguably not until the 20th century that we begin to see its influence stretch beyond just forming ideas but rather into the creation of different ideological movements outside of the art world. We begin to see the representation of surrealist ideas not only in art but in literature, film, and music as well. Such surrealist ideas included unexplainable juxtapositions and non sequitors that can be closely related to characteristic of dreams and the mind. Sigmund Freud in the field of psychology and his study of dreams in the 20th century was certainly a key influence in the exploration of the “unexplainable” subconscious and the mind. Therefore, it is the case that surrealism paintings are chiefly characterized by their “dream-like nature” with their outlandish depictions of everyday objects or landscapes and with their unrelated themes and elements seen in paintings, sculptures, and even literary works during this time.
“I am aiming for its conquest, certain that I myself shall not attain it, but too indifferent to my death not to calculate the joys of such possession.”
This quote from the Surrealist Manifesto which explores the question of dreams and their representation in art, certainly attests to the fascination of philosophers, artists, and scientists, with the subconscious and the meaning behind dreams that was stirred up by Freud’s ideas and work in the 20th century. It is in this way that we see connections being made between science and art and literature as dreams become something sought to understand becoming for people a certain escape from the harsh realities of a violent war period that these surrealist artists found themselves living in between World War I and II.
Painters such as Salvador Dali and Andre Breton found close ties to science and art as they explored the idea of dreams in their paintings by erasing all notions of reality in their work. From melting clocks or weird animal figures to other very unrelated elements randomly placed in abstract backgrounds, such surrealists’ images hoped to capture the randomness and unexplainable nature of dreams that often perplexed them when studying the meaning behind them. It is also interesting to note that the fascination with dreams came at this time perhaps for example because of Breton’s personal experience with the study of psychiatry and art during a time of war. Certainly, post-war stresses on society but also on the soldiers and the citizens witnessing such violence and self-destruction had a great impact on the mind and as a result of the kinds of dreams conjured up at the time. The exploration of these dreams through art is not only a way to understand them better by recreating what is seen in the mind onto paper but it also serves as an escape in itself from the conventional rules and depictions of previous art movements and as a distraction from the reality of warfare that plagued the minds of the entire world throughout the 20th century.