Andre breton was a French writer, poet, anarchist and anti-fascist. He is best known as one of the founder’s of Surrealism. He started his career of studying medicine and psychiatry. Then, during World War I he worked in a neurological ward in Nantes, where he met Jacques Vaché, whose anti-social attitude and disgust for established artistic tradition considerably influenced Breton and his future works. André Breton was one of the original member’s of the Dada group who later went on to start and lead the Surrealist movement in 1924.
That same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto, which he used to defined the “nature” of Surrealism and the mode of expressing its view of reality. He defines surrealism as “Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express — verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner — the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.” Breton’s connections to the dadaist moment are shown in his claims that surrealism has no aesthetic concentration. The core focus of the dada movement was the rejection of the prevailing standards in art through anti-art cultural works that concentrated on anti-war politics. He also used a great deal of absurdist humor, further demonstrating the influence of the Dada movement which preceded it. The Manifesto also confirmed the existence of this brand new art movement and revealed its members. Breton also discusses his initial encounter with the surreal in a famous description of a hypnagogic state he experienced in which a strange phrase inexplicably appeared in his mind: “There is a man cut in two by the window”. This phrase echoes Breton’s understanding of Surrealism as the juxtaposition of “two distant realities” united to create a new one. The text concludes by asserting that Surrealist activity follows no set plan or conventional pattern, and that Surrealists are ultimately nonconformists.
An early example of a Surrealist collage that fuses text and image was his Poeme. Breton wrote this poem the same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto. This poem has much more to offer than just 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, also influenced by Dada. This piece solidifies the idea of integrating text as an art form. With all the variations in fonts, size, and style he is able create a visual pattern through text, expanding it’s soul purpose, from primarily just readability, to a whole new form of visual communication.
Breton was a huge part of the Surrealist movement and his works had a lot of influence on future artists to come. He 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 throughout the 1940s.