Surrealism did not begin as an art movement but as a philosophical strategy, a way of life, and a rebellion against the establishment that gave rise to the First World War. In Lives of the Surrealists, Desmond Morris concentrates on the artists as people—as remarkable individuals. What were their personalities, their predilections, their character strengths and flaws?
Unlike the Impressionists or the Cubists, the surrealists did not obey a fixed visual code, but rather the rules of surrealist philosophy: work from the unconscious, letting your darkest, most irrational thoughts well up and shape your art. An artist himself, and contemporary of the later surrealists, Morris illuminates the considerable variation in each artist’s approach to this technique. While some were out-and-out surrealists in all they did, others lived more orthodox lives and only became surrealists at the easel or in the studio.
Focusing on the thirty-five artists most closely associated with the surrealist movement, Morris lends context to their life histories with narratives of their idiosyncrasies and their often complex love lives, alongside photos of the artists and their work.