Black Swan Editions Visionary Art Book
Books Drawn from the Well of Myth

Visionary Art Books & Poetry in Santa Fe, NM

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Art BLOG - The FIVE Minute Art Salon



 What is Surrealism ? Two Variations


visionary art blog, bookVariation No. I
Simply put, Surreal literally means – beyond Realism. What a wealth of perception,history and possibility live in that, simply. Simply it is the final flowering of the Romantic Movement. Recall, Romanticism is feeling and thought unified through imagination. And what a turn imagination took!

Andre Breton, the father of the movement saw it as primarily a literary movement. He wanted to move beyond the anarchy and despair of Dada. This was a Swiss movement of depressed intellectuals shattered by the WWI. They were without hope and tragically cynical. He thought what was needed was a new beginning.The first improbable patron saint of this reawakening was Sigmund Freud. His pioneering exploration of the unconscious and the power of dream gave Breton a way in.

When the visual arm of the movement began to assert itself it was clear this was the grandchild of the Symbolist Movement. Narrative, craft, the morphology of the world however transformed. De Chirico the first prophet of a new kind of melancholy space led the way and was quickly followed by the names we know Dali, Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray, Escher and many largely forgotten: Dominguez, Matta, Tanning, Carrington and so on into a considerable and distinguished distance. Like Symbolism there was not a uniform sense of style or content. So what did it offer that was uniquely different? Stream of consciousness in the form of automatic writing, private phobias and monsters, less literature and more personal biography, random juxtapositions of improbable elements for poetic purposes, and boundless imagination.

The glue that held them together was Breton, and when the Surrealist Movement lost his adhesive power all of these extravagant butterflies went their own way. The modern, fantastic, surreal, symbolic, mythic, fanciful, and so forth are practitioners in an amalgam of all of these living traditions.

Of course the dangers here are obvious. Any movement or style has the seeds of its own destruction. The dangers in Surreal or visionary work can be painful to behold. Sentimentality rather than sentiment –
To much thought and not enough feeling, or its reverse which results in sterility on the one hand and self-indulgence on the other – Boilerplate far outness without poetic control – Generic and insincere juxtaposition (a teacup turning into a lake and so forth) without the struggle for balance. The craftsman's fallacy, "it is so well done it must be good."

In my view a Surreal, Mythic, or Symbolic work must have the properties of a proper weaving. One thread skill, another thread feeling, another deep mind, another narrative ingenuity (or if lucky, inevitability), another psychological balance, as well as the integrated meaning of color, the ruthless aptness of line, and metaphors that run all the way down to archetype. The myth has legs to stand on going back, all the way back, as far back as back can go. When all of these threads are woven tightly the work will be fully realized.

visionary art blog, bookVariation No. 2

Realism is a kind of myth we pretend we understand, but Surrealism (beyond realism) is a realm we spend a third of our lifetime in when we sleep. We conscientiously forget most of this world when we waken. But the Aborigines believe waking is the fantasy – Dream Time is where they truly live.

When you waken to the fact that real and surreal are metaphoric bubbles floating in the infinite deep, you are left with a fundamental choice. Where is the most interesting place to reside – a world of constantly changing wonder – or a place of gray and alas, necessary routine. Don't panic! Yes gravity works and bills must be paid, but with a small flip of the switch the dull becomes dramatic with new light. The great Carl Gustav Jung knew what every child knows, everything is miraculous. Dali poeticized his fetishes and saved his life. Magritte found visual analogues for his verbal conundrums. Bosch made his nightmares sing with contrapuntal invention.

The second you step behind the curtain, cross the Fairylands forbidden wall, stop reducing magic to fiction or to a sterile coffin to put your fearful conventionalized corpse into, your eyes will be New Washed. Surrealism is not merely a period of European art history in the thirties – it is a way out of the illusion – the illusion that even ordinary life is ordinary.


Art details of painting "ANGEL OF BEING", page 56 
from visonary art book ILLUMINATIONS The Geography of the Imagination
by Steven Edwin Counsell, Artist/Author 
published by Black Swan Editions in Santa Fe, New


More to Read:
What is Myth?
What is Visionary Art?
What is symbolism?