Surrealism – History, Influences and Characteristics

The surrealist art movement emerged in the 1920’s; it is believed to have stemmed from the Dada art movement. ‘The idea of the Dada movement was to go against traditional art and all for which it stood’ (arthistoryarchive 2014).

Dada: ABCD by Raoul Hausmann (1920)

hausmann-3Cubism: Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso (1937)


Expressionism: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh (1889)

van-gogh-vincent-starry-nightSurrealist artists use elements and techniques inspired from Dada, Cubism and Expressionism (examples shown above). This shows the importance of looking at history, of which I have studied for my theory module, as it allows exploration into different art movement, how they began, its influences and evolvement over time. Some of the key characteristics of surrealist art are:

-juxtaposition of objects that would not normally be together
-repetition of objects
-varied object scaling
-simple titles of work

Surrealism: Golconda by Rene Margritte (1953)


Surrealism is shaped by emerging theories on our perception of reality, it relates to the blurring distinctions of the conscious (reality) and unconscious mind (dreams). Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis was a key figure, his ideas and theories were strongly embraced by surrealists. His work, titled The Interpretation of Dreams Freud's Iceberg 2(1900),

‘strongly influenced the movement of Surrealism, providing a theoretical basis to unravel the unconscious and thus free the imagination through their work’ (Manoeuvresto 2012).

My interactive piece can relate to surrealism as it features some of the key characteristics listed above. The juxtaposition of the falling shapes blurs users perception of reality, as they would usually just expect to see themselves captured on camera. The addition of the falling shapes is a surreal feature, of which the distinctions between the conscious and unconscious become blurred. The shapes are also repeated and are of various different sizes, another common characteristic of surrealist work.

I feel that it is important to explore the history of surrealism as it has helped to further my understanding of the concept. I have learnt more about the art movements of which influences surrealist work as well as further exploring Freudian theory. Next, I will go on to explore some surreal photography as at the moment I have only looked at artwork. I feel that by looking at some more existing surreal pieces, it can help inspire me for my piece and will allow me to analyse the concept further.

arthistoryarchive, 2014. The Origins Of Surrealism [online]. Available from: [Accessed 3 December 2014].

Manoeuvresto, 2012. The Influence Of Sigmund Freud’s Theory Of Dreams On The Movement Of Surrealism [online]. Available from: %5BAccessed 3 December 2014].

Design History

For my Media Perspectives theory unit I am currently studying Media and History, it is important that I relate my theory to practice to enable me to see how theory could link to my own work. In order to understand digital media design, it is important to have a realisation of it and how it has evolved over time. Looking into the history of design has helped me to understand it more in terms of its background and also how it still influences contemporary design. I researched some of the main design movements: Arts and Craft, Bauhaus, Modernism and Postmodernism. The Design In a Nutshell youtube videos were a particular useful source for my research. Below are some points about some of the key design movements…

Arts and Craft (1880-1910) arts and craft

  • movement in response to the industrial revolution – wanted well made products rather than mass production
  • key contributors – William Morris
  • designs were of high quality, natural, bold, bright colours and fairly simple

Bauhaus (1919-1933)


  • most influential movement in design history
  • an art school in Germany that combined the different art and design disciplines that they taught and publicised – embraced new technologies
  • key contributors – Walter Groupius
  • design were minimalistic, simple and involved repitition

Modernism (1880-1940)

  • modernismwanted new ways to improve the human culture and environment
  • inspired impressionism, surrealism and many other ‘ism’ art styles
  • designs were structured, original, unusual and abstract

Postmodernism (1978-)postmodernism

  • most controversial movements in art and design history – departure from modernism
  • challenged audience receptions
  • designs were made up of a mix of different styles, playful and bright

By doing this, I have learnt a lot more about the different design styles and what movements they originate from. There are many more design movements to explore but these were the main ones that stood out to me. From this, I can apply this theory of history to my own work to see what design movement has had influence upon my designs. It was interesting to research the history of design and I think this can help me with my practice.

Lister et al (2003) believe that digital media design…

‘can be seen as a continuation and extension of a principle or technique that was already in place..’ (p.17)

As well as that….

‘new media are thought of as epochal; whether as cause or effect, they are part of larger, even global, historical change.’ (p.10)

I believe that this really highlights the importance of exploring design history and how it still has huge influences over contemporary designs. Looking at various design movements has allowed me to see the different design techniques and how they have evolved and continued over time. Exploring history is highly important as in this case, it has improved my understanding of design practices. However it can also further understanding of common media debates, for example the changes in audiences; passivity to activity, and consumers to prosumers etc.


Creative Blog, 2013. The Easy Guide To Design Movements. Creative Blog. 22 October 2013. Available from: [Accessed 7 October 2014].

Jeys, A, 2013. Say What You Mean: A Quick Guide To Graphic Design Styles. Visual Fusion. 6 March 2013. Available from: [Accessed 7 October 2014].

Lister, M, Dovey, J, Giddings, S, Grant, I, and Kelly, K, 2003. New Media: A Critical Introduction [online]. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.

The Open University, 2013. Design In a Nutshell. Available from: [Accessed 7 October 2014].