woman looking at paintings displayed on the wall

How to Interpret Surrealist Art?

Surrealism is a style of art that originated in the early 20th century. The name refers to the surrealists’ interpretation of the concept of surrealism. According to this interpretation, the unconscious mind is more powerful than the conscious mind. Therefore, the ideas in the unconscious mind are more real than the ideas in the conscious mind. This concept led to artwork that conveys a message by using bizarre, uninterpretable forms.

A typical surrealist work starts with a suggestion of normalcy in the physical world. For example, a chair may appear at first to be a regular, well-formed object. However, upon closer examination, that chair may appear to be made of many different pieces welded together. Or it may seem to be made up of many irregularly shaped pieces held together. Other than that, it would seem quite normal and would function as a regular chair. However, upon closer examination, this strange work of art would appear to mock reality and our attempts to bring it into conformance with our ideals of order and beauty.

Artwork can serve as a mirror that shows us what we see in ourselves and how we want others to see us. A practitioner should try to understand the underlying meaning beneath the artwork’s overt message. In analyzing these works from afar, it becomes easy to mock their forms and interpretations from an intellectual standpoint. But when one looks closer, it is possible to see how each form has its own unique message about life or about an element within life itself. When these interpretations come from personal experience with life situations or with certain mental states, these works take on even more power and significance.

It is difficult to discuss the phenomenon of surrealism without comparing it to other styles of art- commentary or conceptual art in particular. Both these styles interpret works from an abstract point of view- using bizarre elements in a form language which mocks reality and seeks to convey a message through subliminal suggestion. Interpretations differ greatly though; while commentary approaches interpretation from a critical standpoint – looking at works from an intellectual perspective – conceptual artists tend to approach interpretation subjectively. Having interpreted each artist’s work subjectively, they will then compare their interpretations with other interpretations by other artists and offer their opinions on art and life subjects through their artworks.

Although some practitioners find surreal art hard to interpret, this viewpoint reinforces its underlying meaning within each practitioner’s mind. In doing so, it empowers both practitioners and fans of this unique genre of art- which is why this style of artwork has had such cultural significance throughout history.

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