While Sigmund Freud is only identified by name three times in Andre Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism, the late founder of the modern study of psychoanalysis’s presence is felt throughout Breton’s essay. Freud’s work may not have been responsible for the birth of surrealism, but the latter certainly reflected Freud’s emphasis on the subconscious mind and acknowledged a debt to the Austrian psychologist’s theories. Indeed, Breton, in his manifesto, recognized Freud’s contributions to the study of the subconscious mind in the surrealist movement that saw its greatest manifestations in the artistry of Joan Miro and Salvador Dali. The latter, in particular, focused heavily on representations of the dreams that haunted him and that he believed affected others. Breton not only recognized the influence of Freud’s theories on the emergence of surrealism, he laments what he considered "the gross neglect" of the subconscious mind on the part of psychology and art, as expressed in the following passage from the Manifesto of Surrealism:
“Freud very rightly brought his critical faculties to bear upon the dream. It is, in fact, inadmissible that this considerable portion of psychic activity (since, at least from man's birth until his death, thought offers no solution of continuity, the sum of the moments of the dream, from the point of view of time, and taking into consideration only the time of pure dreaming, that is the dreams of sleep, is not inferior to the sum of the moments of reality, or, to be more precisely limiting, the moments of waking) has still today been so grossly neglected.”
Later in his essay, Breton again references Freud and the latter’s influence on his own thinking, writing,
“Completely occupied as I still was with Freud at that time, and familiar as I was with his methods of examination which I had some slight occasion to use on some patients during the war, I resolved to obtain from myself what we were trying to obtain from them, namely, a monologue spoken as rapidly as possible without any intervention on the part of the critical faculties, a monologue consequently unencumbered by the slightest inhibition and which was, as closely as possible, akin to spoken thought.”
Breton had served in the French Army during the Great War (World War I), functioning as a psychiatrist, in which capacity he was able to exercise his interest in the human mind, an essential precursor for his post-war development of the concept of “surrealism,” which he defined “once and for all” 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 the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”
The poetry and art that emerged out of the surrealist school owed a great debt to Freud’s theories, and it remains interesting that, when seeking out an expressionist to help put into cinematic form the subconscious mind (in this case the dreams of a troubled individual), director Alfred Hitchcock enlisted the aid of Dali, who dutifully conceptualized the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s 1945 film Spellbound (the famous director later noted to a biographer that he had “wanted to convey the dream with great visual sharpness and clarity–sharper than film itself”). In any event, the film and Dali’s dream sequence were fully intended to evoke Freudian imagery. In short, the theories of the much-maligned psychoanalyst continue to endure in both art and in the study of the human mind.