Impressionism and Surrealism emerged at different times. The term “Impressionism” was created in 1974 (Davies 871), and 1924 was the year when surrealists proclaimed their manifesto (Bishop 396). Their influences, key ideas, and techniques were also reasonably different. However, both these art movements were built around the idea of expressing something that was difficult to say, which makes them somewhat similar at their core.
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The inspirations for the two art styles were not exactly alike. Impressionism came from realism, but Surrealism explicitly borrowed ideas from Freudian psychology and was inspired by the mysteries of the unconscious (Bishop 396). As a result, Impressionism and Surrealism are not precisely comparable in the phenomena that influenced them (Davies 871).
Furthermore, other unique dissimilarities can be found when contrasting the two. Impressionists focused on landscapes, favored Plein-air paintings, and painted what they saw (Davies 871-872). In addition to that, Impressionism was associated with the innovative use of light and the Impressionist color theory that focused on the combinations of colors (Bishop 368; Davies 871-872). A crucial example of Impressionist art is the works of Claude Monet; after all, the term “Impressionism” comes from Monet’s Impression: Sunrise.
However, other artists, including Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, are also noteworthy. Surrealism, however, was less defined by its techniques and more by its imagery, which was illogical and dream-like (Bishop 396; Davies 996). Examples include Salvador Dalí (for instance, The Persistence of Memory) and Joan Miró (Composition), who had highly different techniques but shared an affinity for unusual imagery.
Certain similarities between Impressionism and Surrealism can still be found. Both of them used to be revolutionary for their time, and both of them attempted to capture something that was not exactly tangible. For Impressionism, it was a feeling, emotion, or impression; for Surrealism, it was the uninhibited unconscious (Bishop 996; Pateman 97). As a result, it cannot be claimed that the two are not comparable to some extent.
In summary, Impressionism and Surrealism differ from multiple perspectives. They were inspired by different things and viewed other aspects of art as more important. In particular, while Impressionism focused on the technique, Surrealism was more about the imagery. However, both of them attempted to capture the intangible: feelings or thoughts.
Bishop, Philip E. Adventures in the Human Spirit. 7th ed., Pearson, 2013.
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Davies, Penelope, et al. Janson’s History of Art: The Western Tradition. Prentice-Hall, 2010.
Pateman, Trevor. Key Concepts. Taylor And Francis, 2016.