Surrealist techniques: Wikis


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Surrealism in art, poetry, and literature uses numerous techniques and games to provide inspiration. Many of these are said to free imagination by producing a creative process free of conscious control. The importance of the unconscious as a source of inspiration is central to the nature of surrealism.

The Surrealist movement has been a fractious one since its inception. The value and role of the various techniques has been one of many subjects of disagreement. Some Surrealists consider automatism and games to be sources of inspiration only, while others consider them starting points for finished works. Others consider the items created through automatism to be finished works themselves, needing no further refinement.



Aerography is a technique in which a 3-dimensional object is used as a stencil with spraypainting.


  • Automatic drawing
  • Automatic painting
  • Automatic writing
  • Automatic poetry is poetry written using the automatic method. It has probably been the chief surrealist method from the founding of surrealism to the present day. One of the oddest uses of automatic writing by a great writer was that of W. B. Yeats. His wife, a spiritualist, practised it, and Yeats put large chunks of it into his prose work, A Vision and much of his later poetry. Yeats, however, was not a surrealist.

Automatic poetry generators exist online, but they do not actually generate automatic poetry in this sense.

The Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal used the method of automatic text in his famous book I served a British king. One chapter in the book is written as a single sentence, and at the end of the book Hrabal endorses the use of automatic writing.


Bulletism is shooting ink at a blank piece of paper. The artist can then develop images based on what is seen.


A calligramme is a text or poem of a type developed by Guillaume Apollinaire in which the words or letters make up a shape, particularly a shape connected to the subject of the text or poem.[1][2]


Collage is the assemblage of different forms creating a new whole. For example, an artistic collage work may include newspaper clippings, ribbons, bits of colored or hand-made papers, photographs, etc., glued to a solid support or canvas.


A coulage is a kind of automatic or involuntary sculpture made by pouring a molten material (such as metal, wax, chocolate or white chocolate) into cold water. As the material cools it takes on what appears to be a random (or aleatoric) form, though the physical properties of the materials involved may lead to a conglomeration of discs or spheres. The artist may use a variety of techniques to affect the outcome.

This technique is also used in the divination process known as ceromancy.


An application of cubomania

Cubomania is a method of making collages in which a picture or image is cut into squares and the squares are then reassembled without regard for the image. The technique was first used by the Romanian surrealist Gherasim Luca.

Cut-up technique

Cut-up technique is a literary form or method in which a text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text.


Decalcomania is a process of spreading thick paint upon a canvas then—while it is still wet—covering it with further material such as paper or aluminium foil. This covering is then removed (again before the paint dries), and the resultant paint pattern becomes the basis of the finished painting. The technique was much employed by artists such as Max Ernst.

Dream résumé

The dream résumé takes the form of an employment résumé but chronicles its subject's achievements, employment, or the like, in dreams, rather than in waking life. Sometimes dream résumés contain the achievements of both, however.

Echo poem

An echo poem is a poem written using a technique invented by Aurélien Dauguet in 1972. The poem is composed by one or more persons, working together in a process as follows.

The first "stanza" of the poem is written on the left-hand column of a piece of paper divided into two columns. Then the "opposite" of the first stanza, opposite in whatever sense is appropriate to the poem, is composed in the right-hand column of the page. The writing is done automatically and often the "opposite" stanza is composed of a sound correspondence to the first stanza.

For a longer work, the third stanza can then begin in the left-hand column as an "opposite" or a sound correspondence to what preceded it in the right-hand column. Then the fourth stanza might be an "opposite" or sound correspondence to what preceded it in the left-hand column, and so forth. When the poem is completed, the opposite of the last phrase, line, or sentence, generally serves as the title.

This is unrelated to the non-Surrealist echo verse form which appears as a dialogue between the questions of a character and the answers of the nymph Echo.


Eclaboussure is a process in Surrealist painting where oil paints or watercolours are laid down and water or turpentine is splattered, then soaked up to reveal random splatters or dots where the media was removed. This technique gives the appearance of space and atmosphere. It was used in paintings by Remedios Varo.

Entoptic graphomania

Entoptic graphomania [3][4][5] is a surrealist and automatic method of drawing in which dots are made at the sites of impurities in a blank sheet of paper, and lines are then made between the dots; these can be either "curved lines... or straight lines."[6]. Ithell Colquhoun described its results as "the most austere kind of geometric abstraction."[7] It is apparently to be distinguished from other "entoptic" methods of drawing or art-making.[8]

The method was invented by Dolfi Trost, who as the subtitle of his 1945 book ("Vision dans le cristal. Oniromancie obsessionelle. Et neuf graphomanies entoptiques") suggests, included nine examples therein. This method of "indecipherable writing" (see below) was supposedly an example of "surautomatism," the controversial theory put forward by Trost and Gherashim Luca in which surrealist methods would be practiced that "went beyond" automatism. In Dialectique de Dialectique they had proposed the further radicalization of surrealist automatism by abandoning images produced by artistic techniques in favour of those "resulting from rigorously applied scientific procedures," allegedly cutting the notion of "artist" out of the process of creating images and replacing it with chance and scientific rigour. However, the question has arisen whether an algorithm should be used to determine in what order to connect the dots to maintain the "automatic" nature of the method.[9]

The method has been compared to the "voronoi mathematical progression."[10]

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Collage is perceived as an additive method of visual poetry whereas Étrécissements are a reductive method. This was first employed by Marcel Mariën in the 1950s. The results are achieved by the cutting away of parts of images to encourage a new image, by means of a pair of scissors or any other manipulative sharpened instrument.

Exquisite corpse

Exquisite corpse or Cadavre exquis is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled. It is based on an old parlour game known by the same name (and also as Consequences) in which players wrote in turn on a sheet of paper, folded it to conceal part of the writing, and then passed it to the next player for a further contribution.


Frottage is a method of creation in which one takes a pencil or other drawing tool and makes a "rubbing" over a textured surface. The drawing can either be left as is or used as the basis for further refinement.


Fumage is a technique in which impressions are made by the smoke of a candle or kerosene lamp on a piece of paper or canvas.


In Surrealism, games are important not only as a form of recreation but as a method of investigation. The intention is to cut away the constraints of rationalism and allow concepts to develop more freely and in a more random manner. The aim is to break traditional thought patterns and create a more original outcome.

Old games such as Exquisite corpse, and newer ones, notably Time Travelers' Potlatch and Parallel Collage, have played a critical role.

Exquisite corpse is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled, the result being known as the exquisite corpse or cadavre exquis in French. Later the game was adapted to drawing and collage.

Time Travelers' Potlatch is a game in which two or more players say what gift they would give to another person - this is usually an historical person who played a role in, or had an influence on, the formation of Surrealism.


Grattage is a surrealist technique in painting in which (usually dry) paint is scraped off the canvas. It was employed by Max Ernst and Joan Miró.[11]


Heatage is an automatic technique developed and used by David Hare in which an exposed but unfixed photographic negative is heated from below, causing the emulsion (and the resulting image, when developed) to distort in a random fashion.

Indecipherable writing

In addition to its obvious meaning of writing that is illegibile or for whatever other reason cannot be made out by the reader, indecipherable writing refers to a set of automatic techniques, most developed by Romanian surrealists and falling under the heading of surautomatism. Examples include entoptic graphomania, fumage and the movement of liquid down a vertical surface.

Involuntary sculpture

Surrealism describes as "involuntary sculpture" those made by absent-mindedly manipulating something, such as rolling and unrolling a movie ticket, bending a paper clip, and so forth.[12]

Latent news

Latent news is a game in which an article from a newspaper is cut into individual words (or perhaps phrases) and then rapidly reassembled; see also Cut-up technique.


An example of "movement of liquid down a vertical surface"

A mimeogram is a type of automatic art made by peeling off the backing sheets of mimeograph stencils.

Movement of liquid down a vertical surface

The movement of liquid down a vertical surface is, as the name suggests, a technique, invented by surrealists from Romania and said by them to be surautomatic and a form of indecipherable writing, of making pictures by dripping or allowing a flow of some form of liquid down a vertical surface.


The outagraph is a photograph in which the subject, what the photograph is "of," is cut out. The method was invented by Ted Joans.

Outagraph of the old Houghton, Michigan fire station

Paranoiac-critical method

Paranoiac-critical method is a technique invented by Salvador Dalí which consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state (fear that the self is being manipulated, targeted or controlled by others). The result is a deconstruction of the psychological concept of identity, such that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork.


Parsemage is a surrealist and automatic method in the visual arts invented by Ithell Colquhoun in which dust from charcoal or colored chalk is scattered on the surface of water and then skimmed off by passing a stiff paper or cardboard just under the water's surface.


Photomontage is making of composite picture by cutting and joining a number of photographs.


Soufflage is a Surrealist technique originated by Jimmy Ernst in which liquid paint is blown to inspire or reveal an image.


Surautomatism is any theory or act of taking automatism to its most absurd limits.


Triptography is an automatic photographic technique whereby a roll of film is used three times (either by the same photographer or, in the spirit of Exquisite Corpse, three different photographers), causing it to be triple-exposed in such a way that the chances of any single photograph having a clear and definite subject is nearly impossible. Indeed, finding any edges on the negative itself during the developing process is a nearly impossible task. Typically the developing of such a roll of film is an exercise in automatic technique in and of itself, cutting the film by counting sprocket holes alone, with no regard for the images present on the negative. The results have a quality reminiscent of the transitory period in sleep when one dream suddenly becomes another.

Creativist Christopher Thurlow claims to have discovered this technique when his urge to continue taking photographs was suddenly challenged by the fact that he had run out of un-exposed film.


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Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Surrealist Techniques for producing Artwork

Surrealism has a strong Cognitive and Psychological Association. That is to say that the Process of Surrealist Thought Involves a sense of Awareness of your mental processing, With a Particular interest in the process of Subconscious thought.

The same way an Inkblot test works, in which participants find it possible to associate objects or scenarios to a patternless shape without Conscious Application. Surreal Art allows questions of perception that can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Perhaps another way to think about Surrealism as a Technique is to understand Lateral thinking,

Thinking Laterally involves using a different type of reasoning to Logic.

Logic's process is transparent (A + B = C)it is clear to see it's process is built on a step-by-step structure

Lateral thinking is not so obvious, it relies on techniques like free association providing external stimuli OR the Removal of stimuli

but perhaps the most important is Questioning, taking Nothing for granted. Challenging the Status Quo in ALL areas, in this way Lateral thinking is much more Open and can produce Surprising results.

Lateral thinking works with a natural human trait, that is creating Patterns out of Chaos. It is an inherant Evoultionary trait and a way to make sense of the world around us. We in essense Make up countless connections between different objects, people, environments, scenarios as well as pieces of personal and cultural information All the time. However these connections are not necciselriy always clearly visable before trying the technique. This is because this process of Association is handled by the Subconcios part of the human mind. This may also be due to an evoultionary trait as the mind is able to take in a great deal of information that is not necciserly useful in an Immediate situation.

Another example of the application of Surrealist thought can be seen in a technique developed by Salvador Dali the 'Paranoiac-critical method' is a psychological technique in which creating a hallucinatory like effect of seeing an object infront of you but producing a phantom like non logical association with another is the aim. as if you were Distorting reality infront of you to imagine an association with another object.

This technique derived from previous Surrealist techniques such as Max Ernst’s 'frottage' technique, which involved creating marks of textured surfaces (e.g. rubbing pencil on paper on top of a texture) and then interpreting the marks made

Unlocking the massive log of information inside your subconscious is the process you need to go through to get to Surrealist Thought.

Surrealism enables creative thought as it requires the thinker to be resourceful, to be able to think laterally...naturally


One of the most famous techniques is known as 'Exquisite Corpse'

the name 'Exquisite Corpse' derives from the result of one of the first games played in which produced the line "The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine."

'Exquisite Corpse' is a game designed to create Random association (this can be used as a final piece or a way of gaining inspiration) the game is similar to a game called Consequences in which players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal part of the writing, and then pass it to the next player (creating the random outcome) This Literary version also expanded into the Graphical

This pictorial version is also known as picture consequences in which the same idea is applied to drawing.

here a simple example of this game

first make sure there are at least 3 participants, what your all going to do is create a creature that doesn't exist in reality , take a piece of paper, fold it into thirds One person will draw the Head, draw lines that connect the Head over the fold then fold the paper over to hide the first drawing but allow the next person to continue the body section from the lines you have left for them. Then repeat for the Legs

This is a simple technique that even children can take part in!

Even though it is simple what is drawn has psychological worth. Each section will represent the Drawer or how the Drawer views the subject and what's more the Entire drawing itself will represent the group giving a variety of outcomes each and every time the game is played. Creating new perspectives, new ways of viewing and understanding

In essence this is How Surrealism works, it uses the natural ability of the mind to think creatively

Surrealism in Context

surrealism derives from Dadaism in which the main agenda was the Destruction of Culture and Man made Systems such as the workings of society. The Dada movement was very focused on the idea of Meaning, creating Distorted scenarios in which culture can be examined . There is a definitive legacy of this attitude apparent in Surrealism the Splicing of elements of Reality and the Fantastical often creating a Juxtaposition creating a new meaning, or again the ability to change your perspective on an old concept. A way of stripping cultural content down to its Raw truth.

Surrealism can be considered as a way of Philosophizing, of Political Expression as well as Creative Endeavor in this way. Surrealist Techniques such as Exquisite Corpse (mentioned above)can also reflect the Socio-political implications to this way of thinking. This can be seen in the games dependence on co-operation and the reflection of the group as a whole rather than a single individual owning Credit for the outcome. This process lends itself to Left Wing Communism.

The Surrealists as a group could be said to be More involved in Surrealism as a political and ideological organization than an Artist one. Many Surrealists claim the Artwork is a by-product. An example of this Strong association with Political Idealism can be seen in the Example of Salvador Dali, Ironically one of the most famous Surrealists he was kicked out of the group for his Ego Centric Capitalist Ideals.


Surrealism is a way of thinking and in the end the way you think will reflect in any piece of work you create. It has the potential to unlock Great creativity from the individual and great collaboration with others as well as the potential to understand the way you and other people think.

Through processes of abstraction you can create new terms in which to express what can't be said clearly with language but is equally a part of the Human Condition. This for me is where the Power of Surrealism comes from.


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