Being an Artist

Surrealism and identity.

Challenging conventional notions

Surrealism, a revolutionary art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, has consistently pushed the boundaries of artistic expression and challenged societal norms. At its core, Surrealism seeks to delve into the subconscious mind, uncovering hidden truths and desires that are often obscured by rational thought and societal expectations. Central to its exploration is the concept of identity, which it addresses in ways that defy conventional understanding, particularly regarding gender, sexuality, and the human form.

Flower Hare.

Flower Hare. Natalie Aleksejeva

One of Surrealism's most striking characteristics is its rejection of traditional norms and its embrace of the bizarre and the unexpected. Artists associated with the movement, such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and Max Ernst, sought to dismantle the conventional boundaries of identity by depicting fantastical landscapes, dreamlike scenarios, and hybrid creatures that challenge viewers to reconsider their understanding of reality.

Gender and sexuality in surrealism

In Surrealist art, gender and sexuality are often portrayed as fluid and mutable rather than fixed and stable. Artists explored these themes through the depiction of androgynous figures, metamorphosing bodies, and eroticized forms that defy conventional norms of beauty and desire. This exploration was a direct challenge to the rigid gender roles and sexual mores prevalent in early 20th-century society.

For instance, Salvador Dalí's iconic painting "The Great Masturbator" (1929) depicts a distorted, grotesque figure that blurs the boundaries between male and female, human and non-human, inviting viewers into a realm where the subconscious reigns supreme over societal expectations.

Hybrid creatures and fantastical landscapes

The use of hybrid creatures and fantastical landscapes in Surrealist art further underscores its challenge to conventional notions of identity. These surreal beings, often part-human and part-animal or part-object, serve as manifestations of the subconscious mind's deepest fears, desires, and contradictions. They inhabit dreamscapes that defy the laws of physics and reason, inviting viewers to question their own perceptions of reality and identity.

Max Ernst's "The Elephant Celebes" (1921) is a prime example of Surrealist exploration into hybridity and the uncanny. In this painting, an elephant-like figure with a mysterious, amorphous body stands amidst a bizarre landscape, challenging viewers to decipher its meaning and unsettling their preconceived notions of what is possible in the realm of art and identity.

The legacy of surrealism

The impact of Surrealism on contemporary understandings of identity, gender, and sexuality cannot be overstated. By challenging conventional norms and embracing the irrational and fantastical, Surrealist artists paved the way for future generations of artists and thinkers to explore the complexities of human identity in all its forms.

Surrealism remains a powerful testament to the enduring capacity of art to challenge, provoke and redefine. Through its depiction of hybrid creatures, fantastical landscapes, and fluid identities, Surrealism continues to inspire artists and audiences alike to question the boundaries between reality and fantasy, challenging us to reconsider what it means to be human in a world where identity is as mutable as the dreams that inspire us.