Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Surrealism and l'amour fou

Of course, the strange argument that artists should be politically active is nothing new- it actually goes back to 1920s-era 'social realism', which tended to champion kitsch, so long as it was about factory workers!

For all of the artistic movements that claimed the mantle of 'political and social relevance' in the 20th century, it's odd to think that surrealism, the most pointedly irrelevant, is perhaps the only one you would have to know about in order to understand the century itself. The attempt to dream while awake is embodied in the mass politics of the century, in its literature, its cultural revolutions, and at last, in the art of the surrealists. Salvador Dalí was accused of being an avaricious hedonist, but at least he was honest about it! And even there he was more in tune with the zeitgeist than all of the painters and writers prattling on about 'social realism'.

Why does surrealism endure so well?

In a great article on the surrealists and design, Robert Hughes notes:
"Fashion was sexy. So was surrealism. They were a natural fit. Nobody ever called cubism sexy, or constructivism, or any of the other movements of the early 20th century except German expressionism, which did have its sexy moments - though not so very many of them. But one of the core beliefs of the surrealists, as set forth by their leader, Andre Breton, was in l'amour fou, obsessional love, the kind of love that deranges the senses and tips those who feel it into a helpless vortex of appetite and feeling."

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