The movement may have begun with an exhibition Borduas gave in Montreal in 1942. However, "les Automatistes" were soon being exhibited in Paris and New York also. Though it began as a visual arts group, it also spread to other forms of expression, such as playwrights, poets, and dancers.
The title "les Automatistes" came from journalist Tancrede Marcil Jr., in a review of their second exhibit in Montreal (1947), which appeared in Le Quartier Latin (the University of Montreal's student journal).
In 1948, Borduas published a collective manifesto called the "Refus Global," which is considered an important document in the cultural history of Quebec. Although the group dispersed soon after the manifesto was published, the movement continues to have influence, and may be considered forerunners of the Quiet Revolution.