The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Surrealist techniques

Surrealism in art, poetry, and literature utilizes numerous unique techniques and games to provide inspiration. Many of these are said to free the subconscious mind by producing a creative process free of conscious control. The importance of the subconscious as a source of inspiration is central to the nature of surrealism.

The surrealist movement has been a fractious one since its inception. The value and role of the various techniques described here has been one of many subjects of disagreement. Some surrealists consider automatism and surrealist games to be sources of inspiration only. Others consider them as starting points for finished works. Some consider the items created through automatism to be finished works themselves, needing no further refinement.


Altered Lithographs

"Hearts & Anchors" (1987) series, Altered Lithograph by Richard Genovese
"Hearts & Anchors" (1987) series, Altered Lithograph by Richard Genovese

A printed image produced by the offset lithographic process, then 'altered' by means of gouache, pencil and ink through automatic suggestion encouraged by the original image. This method first discovered and employed by Richard Genovese starting in 1974, draws inspiration from the dialogue set up in the relationship between words and images; this dialogue attempts to bridge the concrete visual poetry of words and the suggestions of aural quality of the image, encouraged by this method.

Automatic Poetry

Automatic poetry is poetry written using the automatic method. It has probably been the chief surrealist method from the founding of surrealism to the present day. One of the oddest uses of automatic writing by a great writer was that of W. B. Yeats. His wife, a spiritualist, practised it, and Yeats put large chunks of it into his prose work, A Vision and much of his later poetry. Yeats, however, was not a surrealist.

"Automatic poetry generators" exist online, but it should be noted they do not actually generate automatic poetry in this sense.


A coulage is a kind of automatic or involuntary sculpture made by pouring a molten material (such as metal, wax, or chocolate) into cold water. As the material cools it takes on what appears to be a random (or aleatoric) form, though the physical properties of the materials involved may lead to a conglomeration of discs or spheres. The artist may utilize a variety of techniques to affect the outcome.

This technique is also used in the divination process known as ceromancy.


Daniel C. Boyer's cubomania "My Fantasy Arrives by Post" (2004)
Daniel C. Boyer's cubomania "My Fantasy Arrives by Post" (2004)

Cubomania is a method of making collages in which a picture or image is cut into squares and the squares are then reassembled without regard for the image. The technique was first used by the Romanian surrealist Gherasim Luca.

This definition of cubomania is to be distinguished from the use of the word to mean "obsession with cubes."


Decalcomania is a process of spreading thick paint upon a canvas then - while it is still wet - covering it with further material such as paper or aluminium foil. This covering is then removed (again before the paint dries), and the resultant paint pattern becomes the basis of the finished painting. The technique was much employed by artists such as Max Ernst. (See main article at Decalcomania)

Dream Resume

The dream resume takes the form of an employment resume but chronicles its subject's achievements, employment, or the like, in dreams, rather than in waking life. Sometimes dream resumes contain the achievements of both, however.

Echo Poem

An echo poem is a poem written using a technique invented by Aurélien Dauguet in 1972. The poem is composed by one or more persons, working together in a process as follows.

The first "stanza" of the poem is written on the left-hand column of a piece of paper divided into two columns. Then the "opposite" of the first stanza, opposite in whatever sense is appropriate to the poem, is composed in the right-hand column of the page. The writing is done automatically and often the "opposite" stanza is composed of a sound correspondence to the first stanza.

For a longer work, the third stanza can then begin in the left-hand column as an "opposite" or a sound correspondence to what preceded it in the right-hand column. Then the fourth stanza might be an "opposite" or sound correspondence to what preceded it in the left-hand column, and so forth. When the poem is completed, the opposite of the last phrase, line, or sentence, generally serves as the title.

Entoptic graphomania

Entoptic graphomania is a surrealist and automatic method of drawing in which dots are made at the sites of impurities in a blank sheet of paper, and lines are then made between the dots.

The method was invented by Dolfi Trost, who as the subtitle of his 1945 book ("Vision dans le cristal. Oniromancie obsessionelle. Et neuf graphomanies entoptiques") suggests, included nine examples therein. This method of "indecipherable writing" (see below) was supposedly an example of "surautomatism," the controversial theory put forward by Trost and Gherashim Luca in which surrealist methods would be practiced that "went beyond" automatism. In Dialectique de Dialectique they had proposed the further radicalization of surrealist automatism by abandoning images produced by artistic techniques in favour of those "resulting from rigorously applied scientific procedures," allegedly cutting the notion of "artist" out of the process of creating images and replacing it with chance and scientific rigour.


Collage is perceived as an additive method of visual poetry whereas Étrécissements are a reductive method. This was first employed by Marcel Mariën in the 1950s, and later further explored by Richard Genovese. The results are achieved by the cutting away of parts of images to encourage a new image, by means of a pair of scissors or any other manipulative sharpened instrument (see also Excavations).


Excavations are collages made using a method developed in 1985 by Richard Genovese, in which pictures or images are glued together in layers, and then a layer or layers are ripped in places, revealing the underlying image.

Excavation Novels

Excavation novel(s) are collages, or more directly decollages in which ordinary bound books are treated to the same method of ripping or cutting away of page fragments to reveal the underlying page, left and right of the margins of the bound page. This method encourages the occurrence of 'chance poetry' in newly assembled words and sentences (and/or images) brought together in the space left by the missing fragments. This method of de-collage developed in 2004 by Richard Genovese.


  • [1] "Explorations on Paper": Excavation Collage


Grattage is a surrealist technique in painting in which (usually dry) paint is scraped off the canvas. It was employed by Max Ernst and Joan Miró [2].

Indecipherable writing

In addition to its obvious meaning of writing that is illegibile or for whatever other reason cannot be made out by the reader, indecipherable writing refers to a set of automatic techniques, most developed by Romanian surrealists and falling under the heading of surautomatism. Examples include entopic graphomania, fumage and the movement of liquid down a vertical surface (see below).

Latent news

Latent news is a game in which an article from a newspaper is cut into individual words (or perhaps phrases) and then rapidly reassembled.

'Manchando' photography

"Garden of Evil" (2004) series, Manchando photograph by Richard Genovese
"Garden of Evil" (2004) series, Manchando photograph by Richard Genovese

Manchando photography is a process of altering the photographic surface of a lithographic image (typically a 4-color commercially printed image) with various light-colored 'markers' in the method of automatic writing. This 'smudging' (manchando, suggested by Alejandro Puga) technique achieved and first introduced in the latter part of the 1970s by Richard Genovese also included a similar approach with Polaroid photographs by applying a 'smudging' pressure stick.

Later this process was adapted to the computer with digital imagery and by the use of photo programs (i.e. "Photoshop"), starting in 2003.


A mimeogram is a type of automatic art made by peeling off the backing sheets of mimeograph stencils. It was pioneered by Penelope Rosemont.

Movement of liquid down a vertical surface

Daniel C. Boyer's ink work "The Sandstone Erections Masked Badlands the Utahian and Delicate Spires Exclaved by Torquemada's Blister Which Is Your Very Special Freckle" (2004) illustrates "movement of liquid down a vertical surface"
Daniel C. Boyer's ink work "The Sandstone Erections Masked Badlands the Utahian and Delicate Spires Exclaved by Torquemada's Blister Which Is Your Very Special Freckle" (2004) illustrates "movement of liquid down a vertical surface"

The movement of liquid down a vertical surface is, as the name suggests, a technique, invented by surrealists from Romania and said by them to be surautomatic and a form of indecipherable writing (see above), of making pictures by dripping or allowing to flow some form of liquid down a vertical surface.


Parsemage is a surrealist and automatic method in the visual arts invented by Ithell Colquhoun in which dust from charcoal or colored chalk is scattered on the surface of water and then skimmed off by passing a stiff paper or cardboard just under the water's surface.


A calligramme is a text or poem, of a type, or the word for which was, developed by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1918, in which the words or letters make up a shape, particularly a shape connected to the subject of the text or poem.

Reference: Examples of calligrammes

Spiral Poem

The Spiral Poem is an 'automatic' poem which originated in the dreamstate and later re-created as an object-poem. Developed by Richard Genovese in 2004, it is the method of poetry written across a sheet of paper in such fashion as to be read in a vortex; the paper then rolled into a 'funnel shape" and in such fashion that it can be read looking down into the vortex of the funnel like a 'flower'.

See also "Devil Trap", a spiral prayer written inside a bowl so that a demon, or devil reads it then becomes mesmerized, falls in, and is trapped in the bowl.

Involuntary Sculpture

Surrealism described as "involuntary sculpture" those made by absent-mindedly manipulating something, such as rolling and unrolling a movie ticket, bending a paper clip, and so forth.

See also

External links

  • On use of molten wax:
  • On alternate definitions for cubomania:
  • ars libri ltd. Catalogue of avant-garde books about the fine arts showing listing for Vision dans le cristal and one of Trost's entopic graphomanias:
Last updated: 05-07-2005 10:53:14
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04