A study of the Surrealist Movement can lead students on an exploration of art, philosophy, and culture.

By Daniella Garran


The Surrealist art movement of the 1930's and 1940's is a fascinating era in the history of art. The artist’s subconscious was featured rather than a more conventional subject matter, such as a still life or a portrait. Hence, dreams became somewhat of a reality. Surrealism came about during a time of great uncertainty; people worldwide were uneasy about politics, economics and international relations. The art of this movement brings this unease to the forefront and forces the viewer to confront it.

In his 1924 "Surrealist Manifesto," Andre Breton wrote, “Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful. Anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful.” You can have students respond in writing to this quotation. They may agree or disagree with Breton using specific examples from art and architecture or simply from observation.

To reinforce cultural similarities and differences among nations and regions, post a large map in your classroom. Place pins or affix sticky notes to the map in the nations from which Surrealist artists hailed. You can have students compare and contrast the art of the Surrealist movement in different countries. For example, how is the work of Italian surrealist Giorgio de Chirico different from Spaniard Salvador Dali’s? What social, political and cultural differences might have influenced these differences?

Assign each student a surrealist artist to research (e.g.: Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Joan Miro and Giorgio de Chirico). Students should replicate one or two of the artist’s works and hang them in the classroom which can become a makeshift art gallery. Each student can come in costume as his or her assigned artist for a Surrealists’ Summit at which artwork can be featured and philosophies discussed. For more surrealism-related lessons and activities see below.

Surrealism Lessons and Activities:

Surrealism Salvador Dali

Students learn about the life and work of Salvador Dali, a key artist in the Surrealism movement. Students use visual thinking skills to observe, interpret and analyze his work. Once they have a solid understanding of the themes of the Surrealist movement, students create their own work of art in the Surrealist style.

The Surreal World

In this lesson students are exposed to the work of several different Surrealist artists which can serve as inspiration for their own artwork. Students then create a collage inspired by the Surrealist movement for inclusion in a class exhibit. The class as a whole then critiques one another’s work and writes articles about each piece.

Get Surreal

This lesson allows students to write copy for an audio guide to Surrealist artwork. The class also organizes an exhibition of famous Surrealist works, and, after researching them extensively, drafts text. Students can work as peer editors to help one another provide succinct but informative descriptions of the artwork.