André Breton was born on February 18, 1896, in Tinchebray, France. After a brief medical career and military service in World War I, he settled in Paris and joined the city’s artistic avant-garde. Surrealism began in the 1920’s as an offshoot or extension of the Dada movement. Breton was its founder as a Dadaist and devotee of Sigmund Freud’s work with psychoanalysis.
André Breton decided (along with the Dadaists) that rational thought was at fault for the world’s problems and that change could only come about through the subconscious mind. He eventually wrote three Surrealist Manifestos and based the movement on the idea that ordinary things, such as objects, symbols, and images could have important meaning when created and viewed with the subconscious. His manifestos encouraged free expression and the release of the subconscious mind, and were followed by the novel Nadja and volumes of essays and poetry.
His ideas, of course, led to a few new techniques in the world of art, such as automatic drawing (where you don’t think, you just draw lines and see what happens) and collaborative artwork (where the randomness of each member helps to limit logic or planning.) In addition, once the artwork was created it was completely open to interpretation by anyone, with no right or wrong meaning.
In New York, Breton and his colleagues curated Surrealist exhibitions that introduced ideas of automatism and intuitive art making to the first Abstract Expressionists. He worked in various creative media, focusing on collage and printmaking as well as authoring several books. Breton 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 in the 1940s.
He died on 28 September 1966.