Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum

Automatism and Its Evolution



Aiming to rejuvenate poetry and the visual arts by drawing on untapped sources of creativity, Surrealism explored the mind’s hidden realms – dreams, mental illness, and the unconscious. Writers and artists developed “automatic” techniques in order to circumvent conscious control and access the wellspring of the unconscious. Automatism reflects the movement’s fascination with new developments in psychiatric thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Surrealists saw automatism as a visual parallel to Sigmund Freud’s use of free association in psychoanalysis.

According to André Breton, the essence of automatism consists of heeding the “voices…of our own unconscious,” while attempting to relinquish conscious control of logic, aesthetics, or morality – enemies of fantasy and creativity. The Surrealists strove to expand their mental worlds and recapture the freedom of imagination normally accessible only in childhood, in dreams, and perhaps in insanity. The role of reason was to be limited to recording and appreciating the magnificent phenomena produced by the unconscious.

Surrealism’s search for processes that would free artworks from conscious thought manifested itself in multiple forms and techniques. These include Jean Arp and André Masson’s “automatic drawings,” Paul Klee and Joan Miró’s semi-automatic works, Max Ernst’s frottages (rubbing) and grattages (scraping), and Oscar Dominguez’s decalcomania (blotting). Man Ray and other photographers developed techniques such as solarization, photograms, and chance effects to create mystery and ambiguity.

In the 1940s, with the wartime exile of major Surrealist artists to the United States, automatism became a major force for New York school artists. Future Abstract Expressionists, including Arshile Gorky, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, and Jackson Pollock, were impressed with the idea that the source of art could be the unconscious, and expanded the repertoire of automatism.

למאגר התערוכות , מוזיאון ישראל | מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים | כל הזכויות שמורות © מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים 1995-
To The Israel Museum Exhibition Online | The Israel Museum, Jerusalem | Copyright © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1995-