Surrealism & Freud: A Guide to Psychoanalysis Links
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Surrealism and Freud: An Overview
  2. Psychoanalysis: Origins and Principles
  3. How Surrealism Adopted Psychoanalysis
  4. Freudian Themes in Surrealist Art
  5. Surrealist Artists and Their Interpretation of Freudian Theories
  6. The Impact of Psychoanalysis on Surrealist Literature
  7. Contemporary Surrealism and Psychoanalysis
  8. Psychoanalysis and Surrealism in Popular Culture

If you've ever marveled at a piece of Surrealist art and wondered what's going on behind those dreamlike images, you're not alone. In fact, there's a fascinating link between Surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis that many art enthusiasts might not be aware of. This connection is not just an interesting tidbit for art trivia, but also a key to understanding the deeper meanings in Surrealist art. So, let's take a journey into the world of Surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis, where art and psychology intertwine in the most captivating ways.

Surrealism and Freud: An Overview

Surrealism, a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, is famous for its bizarre and dreamlike imagery. The Surrealists—artists and writers alike—were deeply influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychologist and the father of psychoanalysis. In fact, the Surrealists were so fascinated by Freud's theories that they incorporated many of his ideas into their work. Here's how:

  • Subconscious mind: Freud's psychoanalysis revolves around the concept of the subconscious mind—an aspect of our psyche that we're not consciously aware of. This idea was like gold to the Surrealists who believed that the subconscious mind was a treasure trove of creativity. So, they used a variety of techniques to 'unlock' the subconscious and let its contents spill out onto their canvases and pages.
  • Dream interpretation: Freud suggested that our dreams are a gateway to our subconscious. He believed that by interpreting our dreams, we could understand our deepest desires and fears. The Surrealists took this idea and ran with it. They filled their artwork with dreamlike imagery, creating strange and unsettling scenes that seemed as if they'd sprung straight from a dream.
  • Freudian symbols: Freud's psychoanalysis is full of symbols—objects or ideas that represent something else. For example, Freud suggested that a snake might symbolize a person's fear or a key might represent a solution to a problem. The Surrealists loved this idea and used all sorts of symbols in their artwork, letting viewers interpret them in their own way.

So, when you're looking at a piece of Surrealist art and you see a melting clock (like in Salvador Dali's famous painting, 'The Persistence of Memory'), remember that there's more to it than meets the eye. That melting clock isn't just a weird image—it's a symbol, a dream, and a glimpse into the artist's subconscious. And it's all thanks to the influence of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis on the Surrealist movement.

Psychoanalysis: Origins and Principles

Before we dive deeper into the world of surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis, let's take a moment to understand what psychoanalysis really is. Born from the brilliant mind of Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century, psychoanalysis is a type of therapy and a theory of mind. It suggests that our behaviors, feelings, and thoughts are not always within our conscious control—they're often influenced by our subconscious mind.

  1. The Conscious and Unconscious Mind: According to Freud, our mind is like an iceberg. The part of the iceberg we can see above the water represents our conscious mind—what we're aware of at any given moment. But the majority of the iceberg is underwater, hidden from view. This represents our unconscious mind, which contains feelings, thoughts, and experiences we don't even know we have. Freud believed that these unconscious elements could influence our behavior in powerful ways.
  2. Dreams as the 'Royal Road' to the Unconscious: Freud saw dreams as a way to peek into the unconscious mind. He believed that our dreams are packed with symbols that, when interpreted correctly, can reveal our deepest desires, fears, and conflicts. Hence, he referred to dreams as the 'royal road' to the unconscious.
  3. Freudian Slips: Ever said something by accident that was embarrassingly true? Freud would say that's not an accident at all—it's a Freudian slip. He believed that these slips of the tongue reveal what's going on in our unconscious mind. Even our mistakes, according to Freud, can tell us something about ourselves.

So, psychoanalysis is all about exploring the hidden parts of our mind and understanding how they shape our lives. And as we'll see in the next sections, this theory didn't just change the way we think about psychology—it also had a massive impact on the world of art, specifically on the surrealism movement.

How Surrealism Adopted Psychoanalysis

Now that you're familiar with the basics of Freud's psychoanalysis, let's explore how it found its way into the world of surrealism. And no, it wasn't a random encounter. In fact, the surrealists were quite fond of Freud's theories. They saw in psychoanalysis a way to dig deeper and uncover the secrets hidden in the human mind, much like they wanted to do with their art.

But how did this adoption happen? Well, it all started when the surrealists began to incorporate some of the key principles of psychoanalysis into their works. Here's a look at how they did it:

  1. The Unconscious Mind: Remember the iceberg analogy from Freud? The surrealists loved that concept. They started creating art that represented the unconscious mind, using strange, dream-like images to depict the hidden parts of the human psyche.
  2. Dreams and Symbolism: The surrealists didn't just use dreams in their works—they made them central. They believed, like Freud, that dreams are filled with symbols that can reveal our deepest desires and fears. They used these symbols extensively in their artwork, creating pieces that were both strange and deeply meaningful.
  3. Freudian Slips in Art: The surrealists also adopted the concept of Freudian slips into their art. They created pieces that seemed to say one thing but suggested something entirely different. This was their way of showing how the unconscious mind can influence our actions and expressions.

So, you see, the surrealists didn't just adopt psychoanalysis—they embraced it. They used Freud's theories to guide their artistic vision and create works that were truly a window into the human mind. And as we'll discover in the next sections, this marriage of psychoanalysis and surrealism resulted in some of the most iconic and intriguing art and literature of the 20th century.

Freudian Themes in Surrealist Art

Now that we've explored how surrealism embraced Freud's psychoanalysis, let's dive a little deeper into the specific Freudian themes that found their way into surrealist art. And trust me, once you start spotting these themes, you'll see them everywhere in surrealist works.

  1. Oedipus Complex: In Freud's world, the Oedipus Complex was a big deal. It's a phase in a child's life when they develop a deep affection for the parent of the opposite sex and a rivalry with the parent of the same sex. Surrealist artists, being the Freud fans they were, incorporated this theme into their works, often using symbolic representations to express it.
  2. Freud's Dream Theory: Freud believed that dreams were the 'royal road' to the unconscious. The surrealists took this road and made it a highway. They filled their artworks with dream-like imagery and symbolism, creating a visual representation of the unconscious mind.
  3. Sexuality and Desire: Freud was one of the first to suggest that sexual desire is a primary motivational force in humans. The surrealists, not ones to shy away from taboo topics, embraced this idea. They used explicit and implicit sexual imagery in their artworks, pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms.
  4. Repression and Release: Freud believed that repressing emotions and desires could lead to psychological problems. The surrealists took this idea to heart. They used their art as a form of release, allowing repressed emotions and desires to surface in their works.

These Freudian themes became the lifeblood of surrealist art, helping to shape its unique and intriguing style. And while the surrealists may have taken some liberties with Freud's theories, they certainly succeeded in creating art that was a true reflection of the human psyche. Now, let's move on to some of the artists who played a major role in this psychoanalytic turn in surrealism.

Surrealist Artists and Their Interpretation of Freudian Theories

When it comes to the incredible world of surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis, there are some artists who simply stand out. These artists truly embraced Freud's theories and reflected them powerfully in their work. Let's go on a quick journey through time and meet some of them.

  1. Salvador Dali: If surrealism had a poster child, it would be Dali. His paintings are a whirlwind of Freudian themes, filled with dreamlike landscapes and bizarre objects. His iconic painting, "The Persistence of Memory," with its melting clocks, is a classic example of Freud's influence on his work. Dali was fascinated by Freud's dream theory and used his art to explore the hidden depths of the unconscious mind.
  2. René Magritte: Known for his witty and thought-provoking artwork, Magritte was another artist deeply influenced by Freud's theories. His paintings often deal with themes of reality and illusion, a nod to Freud's idea of the conscious and unconscious mind. His famous painting "The Treachery of Images," with its assertion that "This is not a pipe," is a brilliant example of his Freudian-inspired approach to art.
  3. Max Ernst: A pioneer of the surrealist movement, Ernst used various techniques like frottage and grattage to create artworks that echoed Freud's theories. His paintings are filled with strange creatures and fantastical landscapes, a testament to his exploration of his unconscious mind. Ernst was fascinated with Freud's idea of the Oedipus Complex, and this theme is evident in many of his works.

These artists, along with many others, played a vital role in bringing surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis together — creating a fusion of art and psychology that continues to captivate us to this day. In the next section, we’ll see how these ideas permeated beyond visual art, influencing surrealist literature as well.

The Impact of Psychoanalysis on Surrealist Literature

Just as Freud's theories of psychoanalysis left a lasting impact on the world of surrealism in art, they also found their way into surrealist literature. The written word became a playground for exploring the depths of the unconscious mind. Let's see how this unfolded.

Take, for example, the writings of André Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement. His works often delved into the subconscious, weaving together dreamlike narratives filled with unexpected twists. Freud's theories on dream interpretation played a significant role in shaping Breton's unique writing style.

Another shining example is Paul Éluard. In his poetry, one can find powerful expressions of Freudian concepts such as the unconscious mind and the pleasure principle. His words dance on the page, inviting the reader to explore the hidden corners of their own mind.

And who could forget Louis Aragon? His novels are a testament to the influence of Freud's psychoanalysis on surrealist literature. His characters often grapple with their unconscious desires and fears, echoing Freud's theories on the human psyche.

It's clear to see that the impact of Freud's psychoanalysis on surrealist literature was truly profound. The way these writers used words to explore the human mind was nothing short of revolutionary. They not only changed the face of literature but also deepened our understanding of the human psyche. And isn't that what surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis is all about — understanding the mind's hidden depths?

Contemporary Surrealism and Psychoanalysis

Our journey with surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis doesn't end in the past. Today, even in the fast-paced digital age, the echoes of this powerful combination continue to inspire artists and storytellers alike. Let's look at how it plays out in today's context.

Contemporary artists like Mark Ryden and Marion Peck are keeping the spirit of surrealism alive. Their artworks, often filled with dreamlike imagery and fantastical elements, reflect the enduring influence of Freud's theories. They remind us that the exploration of the subconscious is not a trend that fades, but a timeless human endeavor.

On the literary front, authors like Haruki Murakami and Neil Gaiman have embraced the surrealistic style in their storytelling. Their narratives, often interwoven with elements of dreams and the unconscious, are a nod to the lasting impact of Freud's psychoanalysis. It's like they're saying: "Hey, Freud was onto something big."

Even in film, the influence of surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis can be seen. Directors like David Lynch and Guillermo Del Toro create cinematic landscapes where the line between reality and the subconscious is blurred, taking viewers on a journey into the depths of the human psyche.

So, you see, the marriage of surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis is far from over. It's alive and thriving, continually evolving and finding new expressions in contemporary art, literature, and film. Isn't it fascinating how these century-old ideas still resonate with us today?

When we discuss surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis, we must consider the profound influence they've had on popular culture. You might be surprised how often you come across their influence every day!

Television series like Westworld and Stranger Things often utilize surrealistic visuals and plotlines influenced by psychoanalysis. These shows explore the depths of the human subconscious, often blurring the lines between the real and the unreal. It's as if they're taking Freud's theories and painting them in vivid technicolor for us to see.

Music isn't left untouched either. The lyrics of many songs often delve into the subconscious mind, exploring dreams and desires. Bands like Pink Floyd and The Beatles have been known to incorporate surrealistic elements in their music and album artwork, paying homage to the connection between surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis.

Then, there's advertising. Yes, even the commercials you see daily. Many ads utilize surreal imagery to capture your attention. They tap into subconscious desires and fears to influence purchasing decisions, a nod to Freud's theories.

So, the next time you're watching your favorite show, listening to a catchy song, or even watching a commercial, remember—there's a good chance you're witnessing the influence of surrealism and Freud's psychoanalysis right before your eyes. Isn't it amazing to realize how these concepts have permeated our everyday lives?

If you're fascinated by the connection between Surrealism and Freud and want to further explore the world of surreal art, check out the workshop 'Intro to Surreal Art' by Andrea Orejarena. This workshop will provide you with a deeper understanding of surrealism and its relationship to psychoanalysis, as well as techniques to create your own surreal artwork.