Surrealism: Myth and Modernity - HART6930

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2022 to 2023.


This module will explore the impact of Surrealism on the visual arts. It will focus in detail on a small group of key surrealist artists, such as Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dali; while also, in order to understand the scope and definition of Surrealism, considering further artists in some detail who were associated with Surrealism but who denied that they were indeed surrealists, such as Frida Kahlo or Pavel Tchelitchew. In addition the module will survey the work of those artists formally associated with the Surrealist group, and the contribution of Dadaist precursors and contemporary artists who exercised a profound influence on Surrealism. While hardly feminist, Surrealism did provide a supportive forum for a number of innovative female artists, arguably enabling the artistic careers of more women than other avant-garde movements in the first half of the Twentieth Century. The relationship of women artists to Surrealism will, therefore, be a key theme of the course. Surrealism was not, however, principally a phenomenon of the visual arts, or a conventional artistic movement: the surrealists sought to reconnect moral and artistic forces, to achieve liberation through emotional intensification ('a systematic derangement of the senses'), and by this means to revolutionize society. They drew inspiration from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical theories to explore the workings of the unconscious and the ‘over-determined’ symbolism of dreams, and also what Gaston Bachelard called the new scientific spirit of the ‘why not’. Characteristic methods included pure psychic automatism, objective chance, the paranoiac-critical method, the double image, dislocation, and collage. Particularly at Level 6, this module will explore the broader implications of these surrealist themes, for example the question of whether myth is an expression of society, or constitutive of it, which was a key concern for the Surrealists. Indeed, André Breton described Surrealism as ‘a method of creating a collective myth’ in 1933. These thematic aspects of the module should make it an interesting wild option for students studying literature, twentieth-century history or cultural history, in addition to history of art students.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 44 plus 6 hours for trip
Private study hours: 250
Total study hours: 300

Method of assessment

Creative Portfolio (3000 – 4000 words) (40%)
Essay (2500 words) (60%)

Indicative reading

Breton, A. (1972) Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Breton, A. (2002) Surrealism and Painting, trans. Simon Watson Taylor, Boston: MFA Publications
Chadwick, W. (1985), Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement, London: Thames & Hudson
Ernst, M. (2009) Beyond Painting, Chicago: Solar Books
Foster, H. (1993) Compulsive Beauty, Cambridge, Mass., and London: MIT Press
Mahon, A. (2005) Surrealism and the Politics of Eros, London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
Nadeau, M. (1973), The History of Surrealism, trans. Richard Howard, London: Pelican

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

- demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of the lives and work of a group of key surrealist artists
- demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of the range of visual artists belonging to the Surrealist group
- demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of artists associated with, and providing inspiration for, but not members of the Surrealist group
- demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of the position of women artists in relation to Surrealism
- demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of a range of key texts, controversies and debates, and experimental practices, of significance for the history of the Surrealist group


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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