Science in Context


Surrealism and Quantum Mechanics: Dispersal and Fragmentation in Art, Life, and Physics

Gavin Parkinson a1
a1 University of Oxford

Article author query
parkinson g   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 



By the time the members of the Surrealist group had fled Paris and dispersed at the beginning of World War II, they had taken account of quantum mechanics and were seeking various ways of assimilating its findings into Surrealist theory. This can be detected in writings issuing from the Surrealist milieu as early as the late 1920s. However, while writers and thinkers outside the field of physics swiftly expressed their awareness of the epistemological crisis brought about by quantum mechanics, Surrealism's artists began to conscript the concepts and imagery of modern physics into their work only at the end of the 1930s. Focusing on two “second generation” Surrealist painters, the Chilean Roberto Matta and the Viennese Wolfgang Paalen, this article discusses the peculiar difficulties faced by artists in finding a language for the “new reality” revealed by the physicists, and argues that the relocation of Surrealism in a discursive field which includes quantum physics discloses the rationale behind its artists' shift to a semi-abstract language.