French Theoretician and Writer
Summary of André Breton
André Breton was an original member of the Dada group who went on to start and lead the Surrealist movement in 1924. In New York, Breton and his colleagues curated Surrealist exhibitions that introduced ideas of automatism and intuitive art making to the first Abstract Expressionists. He worked in various creative media, focusing on collage and printmaking as well as authoring several books. Breton innovated ways in which text and image could be united through chance association to create new, poetic word-image combinations. His ideas about accessing the unconscious and using symbols for self-expression served as a fundamental conceptual building block for New York artists in the 1940s.
- Breton was a major member of the Dada group and the founder of Surrealism. He was dedicated to avant-garde art-making and was known for his ability to unite disparate artists through printed matter and curatorial pursuits.
- Breton drafted the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, declaring Surrealism as "pure psychic automatism," deeply affecting the methodology and origins of future movements, such as Abstract Expressionism.
- One of Breton's fundamental beliefs was in art as an anti-war protest, which he postulated during the First World War. This notion re-gained potency during and after World War II, when the early Abstract Expressionist artists were creating works to demonstrate their outrage at the atrocities happening in Europe.
Biography of André Breton
André Breton was born in a small village, although his family relocated to a Parisian suburb soon after. He excelled in school and developed literary interests quite early. Breton read the French Decadents, such as Charles Baudelaire, J.K. Huysmans, Stephane Mallarme, and the German Romantic writers, all of whom informed his early thoughts on avant-gardism. By 1912, Breton had a cultivated knowledge of Contemporary art and begun to study Anarchism as a political movement. While he loved the French Decadent artists, such as Gustave Moreau, he began to separate himself from their belief in "art for art's sake," in favor of art that appealed to the masses.
Important Art by André Breton
Egg in the church or The Snake is an example of photographic collage that was popularized by Surrealists like Breton and Man Ray. Typical of Breton, the title is both symbolic and enigmatic and its subject matter is cryptic and dream-like. It exemplifies the Surrealist interest in the female body as form, as well as an interest in themes concerning sexuality and religion, as elucidated by Georges Bataille. Bataille's text dealt, in part, with Christianity's repression of desire. Breton and his colleagues aspired to reduce all sexual repressions to symbols and language that would serve freedom of expression.
This is an early example of a Surrealist collage that fuses text and image. Breton wrote this poem the same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto. More than a poetic expression, it reveals Breton's increasing belief in journalism as a potent artistic form as the piece uses newspaper and magazine clipping materials as its source. The text is absurdist and constructs its own logic that would not make sense to a reader trying to understand it as traditional language.
The African Mask is a good example of Breton's studies of Primitive art and its shamanistic potency. Breton was renowned for his mask collection. The first mask he purchased was from Easter Island. While in the United States, Breton traveled around the country, visiting several Native American sites and collecting masks all along the way. He was interested in them as visual objects as well as the metaphorical concept as a window into one's inner mind.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on André Breton
- Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André BretonOur PickBy Mark Polizzotti
- André Breton: Selections (Poets for the Millennium, 1)By André Breton
- NadjaBy André Breton
- What Is Surrealism?: Selected WritingsBy André Breton
- André Breton: Surrealism and PaintingBy André Breton
- André Breton: Dossier DadaBy André Breton
- Documentary about Breton (released in 1971, in French) Part I
- Documentary about Breton (released in 1971, in French) Part II
- Documentary about Breton (released in 1971, in French) Part III
- Documentary about Breton (released in 1971, in French) Part IV
- Documentary about Breton (released in 1971, in French) Part V