André Breton: author of the Surrealist Manifesto #DigLit

What is Surrealism? “Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the true function of thought-thought dictated in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all esthetic or moral preoccupations.” This was the definition given by André Breton when he wrote his first Surrealist Manifesto.

Where did this idea come from? Surrealist artists, most notably André Breton were part of a movement called Dadaism. Dadaists were avant-gardes-artists who wished to break away from the European Academy of Fine Art (they decided what was art and what wasn’t).  Avant-garde artists were tired of being told what was art and what wasn’t so they made their own art and told the Academy to go to hell (pardon my language). Dadaist artists wished to create art that was the pure essence of art. This idea over a short time fizzled out because the pure essence of art to them eventually meant no art at all. That is when Surrealists were born. They wished to create art that was the pure essence of art by tapping into their subconscious and bring forth art that was pure psychic automatism. It was art that was created with no restrictions simply the free-flowing thoughts of the mind.


André Breton was born in Normandy, France and went to medical school to study mental illnesses. When World War I broke out he went to work in the military psychiatric wards. After the war Breton became interested in Freud and his dream analysis theories. Breton wanted to apply this theory when writing poetry. Breton himself was first and foremost a poet. André Breton first began his experiments with his dream-state with a friend Philippe Soupault. They locked themselves in a dark room and tried creating a dream like state from which they wrote whatever came to them. It was a form of stream of consciousness. The writings from these experiments were collected, published as Les Champs Magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields) and became known as the first Surrealist text.

André Breton wished to mesh the lines between the waking consciousness and the dreaming consciousness. André Breton and his group of artists were in fact mostly poets and focused their time on texts not paintings. In 1925 André Breton began writing essays about modern artists who he deemed Surrealists. He also noted some surrealism in earlier painters such as Goya. He also discovered artist Giorgio de Chirico “who was to Surrealist painting what Lautréamont[*] had been to Surrealist poetry” (Tomkins).


*Lautréamont wrote Les Chants de Maladoror. A book of poetry which contained remarkable ideas coming from a wild imagination. Breton discovered this work and made it mandatory reading for all members of the Surrealist group.



Works Cited:

Tomkins, C. (1966). The world of Marcel Duchamp. New York: Time-Life Books.


B. (n.d.). André Breton Biography. Retrieved January 31, 2016, fromé-breton-37471#synopsis

André Breton Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2016, from


5 thoughts on “André Breton: author of the Surrealist Manifesto #DigLit

  1. This is quite interesting and definitely something I know very little about (other than wondering if I might be a pro at meshing lines between waking consciousness and the dreaming consciousness while being up all night with sleepless babies for over a decade, now). This makes me want to grab an art history book and go to town. Do you happen to know if there are any great documentaries (or historical fiction movies) that focus on the Surrealism movement or André Breton’s life? Thanks for your list of sources!


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