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[ Home: Abstract/Contemporary Art: How To Think Like A Surrealist ]
"How To Think Like A Surrealist"
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Author: Mark_Sheeky, Contributing Editor

I used to think that surrealists were a bit mad. The likes of David Lynch, Salvador Dali, Terry Gilliam, Vic Reeves didn't seem exactly normal. Now I think like them, and I know that surrealists are not mad, but do think differently from other people. If surrealists think differently from everyone else you might call this madness, and call surrealism a disease, but if so it is, most probably, a beneficial disease.

What makes surrealism different from other art genres is that it is not a way of painting but a way of life. Surrealism is a way of thinking, a way of being. Once that mental threshold is crossed, which has happened to most people quite accidentally, there is no going back. Connections and patterns that are unseen by ordinary people are suddenly revealed.

Surrealism is a higher way of thinking, the addition of a new thin layer of consciousness that grants the surrealist a vision, and additional control, of his or her mental states. On top of the conscious mind, the subconscious realm of dreams, and the unconscious lies a translucent white veil of mind, a new conscious that can observe and guide the others.
Meaning From The Meaningless

Now, let us observe three crucial lines from The Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton:

The image is a pure creation of the mind.

It cannot be born from a comparison but from a juxtaposition of two more or less distant realities.

The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be--the greater its emotional power and poetic reality...* (Nord-Sud, March 1918)

When two, seemingly unrelated thing are superposed they create a third mystical meaning. An elephant and a cocktail stick might be connected, but not obviously; connected only in a way that the subconscious mind, and not the conscious intelligence, detects.

The Surrealist Manifesto was written at a time when Freud was grasping for a common language to the subconscious. Dream Dictionaries began to appear at around the time of the First World War, apparent maps to the language of the mind that suggested that dreaming of one thing meant this thing, and dreaming of that meant that. Of course now it seems obvious that such connections are necessarily personal and not universal. The elephant and the cocktail stick might mean nothing to one person, but have a deep meaning for another because of a long forgotten memory or experience. However, some imagery is less personal than others. A fire is universally hot and destructive, and popular cultural references might give meaning to the same thing to millions of people; so it is by no means the case that subconscious imagery is useless to all but the creator; in fact on balance, to people in the same country and culture these unseen connections are probably more universal than personal.

To create a surreal item it is important, vital, that the subconscious is the sole creator. The method is simple. The words or images will appear in your mind, like magic, when the mood is right. It's a simple matter of ignoring your conscious thoughts, and listening only to your subconscious. Mental control is important. The conscious mind should be limited in its powers as much as possible.

Simple observation of the subconscious, without a subject or predisposition, will result in something as meaningful as a dream. It will probably be a dream. It will probably be about some recent memory or activity. This is not useless, but is undirected, and might have limited scope or even be literally nonsensical to other people. This is one reason why a lot of surrealism appears to be nonsense.

To create art with a definite theme, direction and partial use of the conscious mind is useful. Feel the mood, speak (or visualise) the subject then blank your mind and wait. The words, images or music will appear. To assist, start writing, drawing, playing, and in this trance the result will appear.

That golden method takes training and the right conditions to work however, and even has side effects which may be deemed unpleasant such as having vivid visions or powerful blasts of subconscious thoughts invading ones thoughts at inappropriate times. After time, two thoughts, a conscious and a subconscious interpretation will be present at any one time, resulting in a sort of surrealist schizophrenia.
Randomness And Analysis

There are simpler ways to trick the conscious mind into releasing control. Let's try a surrealist game.

1. Start with word association of objects. Begin with a word or object; a cat for example. Then, without really thinking, think of something like that object. Repeat this a few times; You might have cat, dog, lead, bowl, cup, drink, eat, meat etc.
2. Now do the same; but this time try word disassociation. Starting with one object, each subsequent word or item should be as different from the preceding one as possible. Again, you should avoid thinking or pondering on each word.
3. Then try the same thing but with images or situations instead of words.

Now, different as you think the words in the word disassociation game are you will, upon analysis, find that they are connected. In fact, if you think of any two situations, as unconnected as possible you will find a connection because that connection was formed in your very brain.

When you see that connection you can see the meaning. And when you can instinctively see the meaning between two things that at first appeared unconnected, that at first were as unconnected as you could have possibly imagined, then you are thinking like a surrealist.
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