ǝɹou ɐuıqɐs ɟo pןɹoʍ ǝɥʇ

Writings: Surreal, surrealist or surrealistic

There seems to be some confusion regarding the terms surreal, surrealist and surrealistic. When to use which?
If you use surrealist as a noun, it is simply an artist who is a member of the surrealism movement.
Surrealism being a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or non-rational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc. (Definition source: dictionary)
If surrealist is used as an adjective, it still refers to the 20th century art movement.
Surrealistic means like an artwork of the surrealism movement (“having features typical or reminiscent of those depicted in surrealistic painting or drawing”), while surreal has a more general application: “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic”

The three terms are so closely related and similar that it is still possible for confusion to arise, despite the verbal definition, so perhaps a few visuals can help illustrate the difference between these terms.

Surrealist Art

Surrealist artworks are always also surreal as well as surrealistic, but they are more strictly pertaining to the art movement (surrealism).

Surrealist artworks

“The Temptation of St. Anthony” is a 1946 painting by Salvador Dali. Dali was a surrealist, during the surrealist revolution, so his works are, even strictly speaking, surrealist artworks. The same goes for “The Elephant Celebes” by Max Ernst, painted in 1921, Frida Kahlo’s “What the Water Game Me”, painted in 1922, Joan Miró’s “The Tilled Field”, painted in 1924, Pablo Picasso’s “Figures on a Beach”, painted in 1931 and all other artworks that are not only surrealistic but are also created during the period when surrealism was not ‘just’ an art style – note for thought: when is it ever just that – but also a cultural movement.


So let us split hairs and see what else we can discover.


Surrealistic Art

Surrealistic artworks are always surreal but not necessarily surrealist, though they can be that too.

Surrealistic artworks

René Magritte’s “The Son of Man” is a surrealist painting and as such clearly adheres to the surrealistic principles of the 20th century art movement as proposed by André Breton in his Surrealist Manifesto. The other painting, “Primordial Tango” by Sabina Nore, is a 21st century painting, but it can be described as a classic surrealist piece. However, as it was painted in the 21st century and not during the surrealist revolution, it is referred to as a surrealistic painting.


Surreal Art

Surreal artworks can be surrealist and/or surrealistic, but don’t have to be either.

Surreal Artworks

Salvador Dali’s “Burning Giraffe”, an illustration for “Alice in Wonderland” by John Tenniel and “Sailing on Dreams” by myself (Sabina Nore). Artworks from three different time periods, one created during the surrealist art movement (Burning Giraffe), one created before (Alice in Wonderland”) and one after (“Sailing on Dreams”), yet all of them are surreal.

I hope this has helped shed at least some light on this surreal subject matter.
As for me and my artworks, out of these three particular choices, I choose to classify them as surreal paintings. I like to keep things simple and clear, and sur-real my paintings most certainly are.
Lastly, I’d like to close with the following statement: surrealism rocks. Whether today or a 80 years ago, surrealism lives on, because it is bigger than any manifesto. We can twist the name or invent new ones, but at the heart of it all, you will find surrealism.

Sabina Nore
June 2012

~•~ Back to index: Writings ~•~

Back to writings

Sabina Nore