Friday, December 16, 2016

Automatism and Surrealism

Monte Cook Games sometimes describes the tone of Invisible Sun RPG as "surreal fantasy."  In keeping with that description, this post further explores the origins of surrealism as a school of visual arts.  In the last post, I discussed Dadaism as one of the precursors of (self-identified) surrealists.  It is important to remember a couple of elements from the Dada movement.

  1. The Dadaists questions traditional sources of authority -- from politics to religion to art
  2. Reason, itself, was implicated in the horrors of WWI
From this milieu emerged a particular set of artists who took the attack on reason and authority quite seriously - led by Andre Breton.

Andre Breton in 1924
Breton proposed that the conscious creation of art allowed for reason to pollute free expression.  Every deliberate act - including the creation of art - was contaminated.  This led to a natural question.  How does one create art without conscious intention?  His proposal was automatism

Automatism involves the use of automatic (rather than consciously controlled) movements to record expression.  In an extreme case, consider randomly hitting keys.  The surrealists applied this technique to drawing and painting.  The artist sketched in a seemly random fashion paying as little attention to the page as possible.  This means more than simply not looking at the page on which one is drawing - one had to try not to think of the page at all or the emerging image.  If an image did emerge (surely, there was not always an emergent image), it was thought to represent subconscious -- and to a surrealist, truer -- form of expression.

Breton applied automatism to other activities as well.  He worked with automatic writing in which a writer records every passing thought with as little self-editing as possible.  The goal was to produce a dream-like sequence of images or thoughts on the page.  The connection between dreams and surrealism here becomes clear.  Automatic drawing and writing was intended to provide access to the raw unconscious - just as dreams were thought to express.  

It is the emphasis on dreams that may serve as the strongest connection between early surrealism and the Invisible Sun RPG.  The images associated with the game and the discussion of the Actuality as being more real than what we know as reality (much like Breton's notion that the sub-conscious is more authentic than anything consciously created) provide some insight into the philosophical and aesthetic inspirations of the RPG.  

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