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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.

Table of contents
1 Altered Lithographs
2 Automatic Poetry
3 Coulage
4 Cubomania
5 Echo Poem
6 Entopic graphomania
7 Etrécissements
8 Indecipherable writing
9 'Manchando' photography
10 Mimeogram
11 Movement of liquid down a vertical surface
12 Parsemage
13 See also
14 External links

Altered Lithographs

A printed image produced by the offset lithographic process, then 'altered' by means of gouache, pencil and ink through the automatic suggestion encouraged by the original image. This method employed by Richard Genovese starting in 1974 draws inspiration from the dialogue of words and images 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.


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.


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."

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.

Entopic graphomania

Entopic 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 Etrécissements 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).

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 developed by Romanian surrealists, falling under the heading of surautomatism. Examples include entopic graphomania and the movement of liquid down a vertical surface (see below).

'Manchando' photography

Using computer tools on digital generated imagery, the 'Manchando'' is an applied technique by means of the process of automatic writing. This 'smudging' method first explored by Richard Genovese in the late 1980's.


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

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.

See also

External links