Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is known as being one of the most influential figures in modern art. Although his career was rather short, Duchamp is known as the father of conceptual art and a figurehead in the American Dada movement. His early works are said to be heavily influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism.

Duchamp was raised in Normandy, France and studied art in Paris, where he became well acquainted with modern art movements. In 1912, he submitted his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 to the Salon des Indépendants in Paris where it became the center of much controversy. Inspired by cubism and futurism, the work shows the motion of a nude figure walking down a staircase. The work was not rejected from the show but Duchamp was asked to either withdraw the painting or to paint over the title on the canvas. He refused and a year later submitted the painting to the Armory Show in New York City where the work was a success, yet still considered to be scandalous.


Marcel Duchamp,  Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

After his experiences surrounding Nude, Duchamp became disillusioned with what he called “retinal art”, or art that was simply made to be pleasing to the eye rather than the mind. Duchamp responded to retinal art with his readymades, which were “ordinary object[s] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”  In 1915, Duchamp moved to New York and soon became affiliated with New York Dada, which was considered to have a less serious tone than European Dada. In 1917, he created his most famous work and readymade, Fountain, which was simply a urinal that Duchamp had signed as “R. Mutt.” Duchamp submitted Fountain to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit but it was ultimately rejected after much debate concerning that validity of the readymade as an art piece. After this rejection, Duchamp stepped down as the director of the board of the Society of Independent Artists.


Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

For fear of repetition in his work, Duchamp created a fairly small number of pieces during his career; however, his impact has been long-lasting. While Duchamp was heavily involved with many Dada artists and influenced by modern movements such as cubism and futurism, he himself subscribed to no particular movement. His refusal to create “retinal art” along with his unconventional readymades have influenced artists such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenburg and movements ranging from Pop Art to Installation and Conceptual Art.


Salvador Dali

Dali was a Spanish artist and surrealist icon, known for his paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture, writing, and film. With this comprehensive repertoire of artistic skills and a love for Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, Dali ployed various techniques to access his subconscious mind to use as a creative tool. One method that he used was his paranoid-critical method, a term coined by other surrealists that describes the practice of uncovering surprising dream-like images from deep within one’s mind. By diving into the realms of his hidden psyche, he materialized bizarre scenes into art forms. He began his artistic journey learning Cubist skills and would begin to encompass many other styles of art like the those of the Renaissance and avant-garde movements as his craft improved (2). His most famous works fall under the surrealist category, however, of illogical scenes with realistic photographic precision.

Dali’s first surreal painting, Honey is Sweeter than Blood, was made in 1927 at the age of twenty-three. This painting marks his transition away from Cubism and more towards the visions of the subconscious mind. It was made between “Dali’s first visits to Paris when he became increasingly influenced by artists who would found the Surrealist movement” (1). The main subject of the painting is a nude woman without a head who sits amongst soft blue and grey clouds. A small fairytale-like creature is placed at the top corner of the painting, and has no proper relation to the center figure. A few impossibly-grown tree branches are incorporated into the scene as well. There is one light source that drapes highlights over the figure, the colors blended to create an incredibly realistic body. The arrangement of matter in the painting creates a non-sensical story that has no evident meaning but to represent the worlds of the subliminal mind- one with “decadence, death, and immortality.” (1).

After his first venture into the surrealist techniques, Dali soon mastered this art form and his most prominent works were completed between 1930 and 1955. He has been acknowledged as a big inspiration for many artists worldwide, and continues to be revered by people of all professions for his unique perspective of the mind’s subconscious.





René Magritte

René Magritte, often referred to as the most praised Belgian artist of the 20th Century, is also one of the most widely recognized Surrealist artists of the time period. The primary goal of surrealist artists was to channel the unconscious in their works, let go of rationalism, and unlock the power of imagination. This was no exception for Magritte, but what set him apart from other Surrealists, was his deadpan, illustrative approach that clearly portrayed the content of his paintings. This illustrative technique results in contradictions within his paintings; beautiful, simplistic imagery, that simultaneously elicit unsettling thoughts. There is a stark contrast between the seemingly ordinary, and the mysterious. Influences of psychoanalysis can also been seen throughout Magritte’s work; repetition was a key feature throughout his career, and regarded also as a sign of trauma according to Freudian thought.


Above we have the painting “Les Amants,” or “The Lovers” painted by Magritte in 1928, the first in a series of four variations. Here Magritte has portrayed a cinematic-style kiss between two lovers, but in a mysterious twist of the expected, has concealed the faces in cloth, hindering the viewer’s ability to peer in on the scene. Surrealists were often interested in the idea of disguises and masking what lies beneath the surface, it is quite evident that Magritte was no exception to this. It is speculated that this series of paintings was inspired by the death of Magritte’s mother, who drowned herself and was retrieved from the river with her nightgown draped over her face. Although Magritte denied this, the story is still pervasive. In my own personal interpretation of The Lovers, I see the series as a representative of past failed relationships, of the old photos we keep as a reminder of times spent with people who have since become distant memories. “The Lovers” are no longer in love, and that is why their faces have been covered as if they were corpses. 

René Magritte had significant influence on movements that followed his death in 1967, including both Pop Art and Conceptual Art. His emphasis on concept over one’s execution was particularly impactful, and he has been cited as key influences by artists  such as Andy Warhol and Martin Kippenberger. Magritte’s work is still influential readily on display around the world today.

Works Cited

Hamilton, Adrian. “Smoke and Mirrors: The Surreal Life and Work of René Magritte.” Independent. N.p., 9 June 2011. Web. 21 Oct. 2016. <>

“MoMA | René Magritte. The Lovers. Le Perreux-sur-Marne, 1928.” MoMALearning. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2016. <>

“Rene Magritte Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2016. <>