Tuesday Art ATTACK- André Breton "Chanson Object"

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By Christian Franzen

André Breton was born in Normandy, France in February of 1896. He was exposed to art at a young age and encouraged to practice painting and writing on the side of his other studies. Breton went on to study Medicine and Psychiatry at the university level right before the out break of WWI. Throughout the entirety of WWI Breton worked as a field doctor and as an aid in the French Neurological ward. There he met other men who's interest in the brain matched his own. He became fast friends with Alfred Jarry and Jaques Vaché, both of whom held extreme disdain towards the established artistic tradition which influenced Breton later in life. Vaché's suicide after the war would have a large impact on Breton's practice. 

After the war, Breton dived fully into being an artist. In 1919 he co-wrote and published the review Littèrature with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault which served as a critique on the flaws in the state of modern artistic expression and practice. In this transitional time in Paris, Breton became a lead figure in the transition to Surrealism from Dada in the French art scene. In 1924 he founded the Bureau of Surrealist Research, where he and other surrealist conducted research on the workings of the brain. That same year he published the Surrealist Manifesto. The new surrealist movement in Paris heavily stressed Freudian concepts and the connection of dreams to the unconscious. Another large trait of the Paris Surrealist school was the belief that man was naturally evil and mans brain was naturally evil. This idea was heavily a byproduct of the first World War. 

Throughout much of the late 1920's as well as the early 1930's, Breton became a notable figure in the French Communist party along with many other surrealists in Paris. He was eventually expelled from the party in 1935 for his extreme views and attitude. For a brief period after his expulsion his popularity in the art market dropped and he survived off the sale of his large personal art collection.

In 1938 he was the winner of a cultural commission from the French government to travel to Mexico to give a talk at the Natural Autonomous University of Mexico on Surrealism. His travels to Mexico gave Breton the opportunity to meet Leon Trotsky who was living there in hiding with Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo. Together Breton and Trotsky wrote a manifesto they named Pour un art révolutionnaire indépendent in which they called for the "complete freedom of art". 

In the beginning stages of the conflict of WWII, Breton once again served as a Doctor to the soldiers. However, in 1941 the conquering German government in France banned his writings because of their call to revolution and he quickly became a wanted man. Breton escaped with the aid of American soldiers to North America, where he and his wife Elisa explored for the remainder of the war. 

He returned to Paris in 1946 and tried to incite a surrealist resurgence that lasted for a brief period of time. In his later years he became increasingly political and voiced his embrace of anarchism. He also continued to support the Federation Commiuniste Libertaire devotedly until his death in 1966 at the age of 70.

André Breton Photographed by Man Ray, 1930

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