According to Andre Brenton, the founder of surrealism and the writer of Le Manifeste du Surrealisme, surrealism is "Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other matter- the actual functioning of thought." They thought the conscious mind blocked imagination and tried to rise above it.
Two artists of this time were Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali.
Rene Magritte (1898-1967)liked to paint simply but with thought-provoking imagery. He painted a painting of a scene with an easel, where the image on the easel is simply a continuation of the background. He also painted this image, titled "Treachery of Images":
the words on the image say "this is not a pipe" in French, even though it is clearly a pipe. What Magritte was trying to convey is that it is only an image of a pipe. It will not function as one; therefore, it isn't one. The realist viewer assumed that it was a pipe.
Magritte liked to show in his work that readers often assume things, but the point of surrealism is that you're wrong.
Salvador Dali (1904-1989) was a surrealist painter. He took surrealism to heart in his daily life, wearing strange clothes and a comic mustache. His paintings often make people double-take, or they're a warped version of what we see in the real world. His paintings are dreamlike in the sense that dreams make sense when you are having them, but when you wake up, it's obvious that the dream never could have happened in real life. His most famous painting is called "The Persistence of Memory." It depicts drooping clock scattered over a broken landscape. It is meant to represent the fact that time is meaningless.
Below: "Persistence of Memory" and "Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach"
Dadaism was not a typical art movement. It was meant to be spontaneous and defined by chance. They used mediums such as manufactured products and magazines, with scissors and glue. They often created collages of photographs and words and collaborative works. Dadaism challenged the definition of art itself. It was criticized as being "anti art."
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) liked to use a style he called "readymade" in his work. "Readymade" basically means taking everyday or manufactured objects and turning them into art, including his famous urinal sculpture. That sculpture, titled "Fountain," is famous for its representation of dadaism: art is in the eye of the beholder.
The images above are "Bicycle" by Ducahmp, and a picture of an art gallery that Duchamp covered in string before visitors went in, rendering it impossible to get by. I think it's art.
Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) wrote a Dada Manifesto. In it, he says,
"I say unto you: there is no beginning and we do not tremble, we are not sentimental. We are a furious Wind, tearing the dirty linen of clouds and prayers, preparing the great spectacle of disaster, fire, decomposition."
He was a poet. He describes how he writes in the Dadaist style in a poem of his own:
"Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd. "
He describes in this poem basically having the art make itself (Chance) and the fact that the Dadaists were unappreciated and ridiculed.