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Throughout history, there are easily identified periods of revolution, upheaval, and revolt which are undoubtedly linked to an explosion in artistic expression. Eventually, this develops into an organized, coherent movement of some sort. In this manner, World War I spawned dada and surrealism and World War II brought forth existentialism and structuralism. Unfortunately, movements such as these are notably absent from recent times (and when I say recent times I mean the 80’s and the 90’s). This should not come as a surprise; simple reasoning provides many excuses for this absence.
Perhaps most importantly, there has not been a significant revolution, upheaval, or revolt in the last fifteen years. Worst yet, the proliferation of modern technology into all aspects of our lives has drowned us in a sea of overly glamorized, continually recycled information of questionable value – fast-food knowledge. In such a deluge, it is difficult for one to sit back, relax, and think up a single original thought. Televisions flicker, VCRs whine, satellites buzz, and computers radiate, serving to alienate the individual by denying them any sense of true identity. Amongst such an onslaught, the individual is not only denied his/her own thoughts (the pressure to succumb to mass media is strong) but he/she is duped into a false feeling of inner knowledge and security by ideas that are recycled again and again. Only slight adjustments are made to the mass media product to allow for changing demographics and social opinion based on that season’s taste in clothing and music. In this manner, modern society seems to be chugging along monotonously. Only hints and sparks of dissatisfaction become apparent, without ever really evolving into any concrete movement, because the media blitz gave it a front page for a month and then cast it aside for something more profitable. The formerly dissatisfied were now satisfied that they had their fifteen minutes that society (popular culture) has taught them to value highly. With great zeal they went on to the next flavour of the month with the hopes of gaining even more fame.
In such an oppressive atmosphere (and you might not even recognize it, since it’s deceit is so successful), it is easy to understand why it is almost impossible to establish a coherent, organized movement that will last long enough to genuinely effect people. If such movements did exist, as mentioned briefly above (and let’s not rule out that they could have existed at one point or another), they were no doubt run by artists in a highly insular, egocentric manner. Satisfied with their stance, they gathered colleagues with similar ideas, all begging for attention. Wallowing in their pretentiousness, they pressed on without any plan or intention beyond the next photo opportunity. Such movements die quickly. They can not exist, and do not deserve to exist, because they have left out those with the most to say.
There are surely those members of the general public that have no applicable knowledge of art or literature, but share a general feeling that something is unsatisfactory in this regard. They hold the key to a vast, untapped potential for expression of ideas uncontaminated by previous learnings or artistic mandate. If only they could be made to realize this potential they all carry with them. If only they could be distracted, perhaps just for a moment, to scratch down a few lines, to temporarily free themselves from media pollution and the mundane aspects of everyday life. How can this be done ? How can people be incited to do anything when it’s obvious that for fifteen years nothing is being done ? The lack of revolution alone is justification for a new movement of some sort.
A new movement must be created to represent those with something to say, but are afraid of saying it for fear of criticism, or for fear of themselves. This movement must include people of all backgrounds, to avoid monotony and pretension. It must disregard previous ideas of what expression should be so that something as original as possible can be created. It must not be a vanity project for a few, a mere bid for fame and attention, but a gathering force for several. It must incite people to create. If the movement does not last, and chances are against it, then it must at least provoke and inspire. In that way it will live on forever in the memories of those who it affected. This movement must have a name that people can associate with. It must have a philosophy that is simple and inspirational, taking into account that people of many backgrounds are going to be encouraged to adapt its ideas; no one should be driven away or intimidated by it. The name of this movement is Prerealism. Its philosophy and its history, as of this afternoon, are as follows:
No doubt, people are going to immediately compare prerealism to surrealism. The comparison is warranted; the name was chosen so that a definite statement could be made in this regard. While surrealism started off with the best intentions, it has now come to signify (unfortunately) a purely artistic movement; thus it’s become inaccessible to a large fraction of the general public who are intimidated by art, or critical of the society it represents. Worst still, the word surrealism has been misused by the media so frequently that it has come to take on a completely different meaning, completely detached from the brilliant philosophy that spawned it. Obviously, a new movement, without any preconceptions and uncontaminated by media or public opinion, must be created in an effort to draw together people of vastly different backgrounds, opinions, and ideas. A difficult proposition, but once again the key is in the name.
Prerealism can be defined as that primitive state where all thoughts are free, before ideas have formed. It advocates a style of expression, literary or otherwise, where the creator is unaware of what he or she has created or why. The creation is pure and simple, and based deeply on personal experience, feelings, and emotions. It is truly representative of that person, in fact that creation is a better representation of them than they are. The creator must fight the inclination to be self-censoring. Nothing is too personal and if the person fears criticism then how can they leave the house every morning ? What they have created is what is really there, within them.
In this manner, with honesty and free of misguided intent (vanity or sensationalism) the creator can relate to other creators. We all share the same primal feelings, emotions, and experiences that have existed for eons. We are all part of the collective unconsciousness. To tap into this, we are disregarding realism, that which we have been taught or forced to accept. We are returning to a state previous to such restraints – prerealism. Not unlike primitive man who scratched bizarre paintings on cave walls; landscapes of dreams and superstitions based on the unknown, the mysterious; those things they sought to express, not knowing why or what they really meant, but hoping to be understood, hoping to understand.
The attitude a prerealist must take towards creation is not unlike that of a child. To a child, the simplest, most common experience by adult standards seems full of wonder and awe; of course, we can’t discount the strong sense of fear and dread – the strongest of human emotions. They are innocent of mundane daily rituals that keep adults so firmly held to the ground, and pressed down into it. These qualities, their playful sense of wonderment, are common among all children. They all bring home works of ‘art’ from school that baffle parents.
“Where does he/she get it from ? Whose side of the family ?” they ask.
Often the work is wildly humorous, or sometimes it may cause the parents great distress. But the child only creates honestly what he or she sees, feels, and experiences, with a complete disregard for how it will be perceived or judged. The child gives no reasoning for it, other than they wanted to create something, and they were full of great passion and excitement while doing so. This quality is shared by all children, regardless of race, social class, or past history. Then why isn’t it shared by all adults ? Where did it disappear to ? It has not disappeared at all. It awaits within us all. It takes great self-motivation, perseverance, and determination, but this inner wealth can be used to great benefits.
Prerealism advocates a return to the childhood will to create. It advocates simplicity in structure and form. Not that the work created will be of no real value; quite the contrary (not that it’s value can be properly determined by academic standards since this is an expression devoid of such trappings and pitfalls). It emphasizes content. You must understand what’s within you, what’s always been there, before you can make use of the precious resource. Your past, before you became all too immersed in reality, contains the key to understanding and utilizing your creative powers. As an adult, you must not be embarrassed by any of this. Once again, you must not be self-censoring.
As an adult there are many techniques and types of expression left open to you. These techniques have existed for centuries and can not be called prerealist by any stretch – that would be too presumptuous. By ignoring the conventions of realism, and concentrating solely on your individual will to create, you can not ignore the limitless potential of dreams. Your dreams take over when the other body functions have slowed greatly and the daily routine is but a memory until the morning. They are pure, uncontaminated, and they fill you with thoughts and emotions that seem devoid of reason or importance. But you dreams are more important than any waking emotion. They represent your true self. The waking self – eyes darting, ears perked, muscles tensed – spends the day obsessed with charts, graphs, clothing, money, food, and the time of day. Of course, this is necessary to an extent, but it becomes detrimental if it has stymied your ability or will to create and to share that creation with others. You have, in essence, lost an important part of yourself by either refusing to acknowledge it or allowing it to slip away from you.
Prerealism is, in the end, a form of expression and not a lifestyle; in this way it differs from surrealism. Obviously, you must recognize reality, you must participate in the nine-to-five grind, in order to recognize your dissatisfaction. Only then can you try to step away from realism in a creative way, a way that is completely defined by your daily experiences, as mundane as they might be. Prerealism does not advocate changing concepts of reality either. How is that possible when the notion of reality is ambiguous at best ? New theories are always being constructed and previous ones are always being disputed. And it goes on and on. Ideas are constantly recycled, turned around, or discarded completely. No, do not think for a minute that prerealism wants to change the world in some manner. Pretentious thoughts like that would alienate the people whom prerealism wants to attract. The only true intent of prerealism is for you to realize your discontent. It is a simple form of expression, a badge that anyone can wear to empower them with the will to create something truly personal and wonderful, regardless of their background or inclinations. Do not read anything more into it than that; in fact, a lot of this essay you may choose to ignore completely. Prerealism is an honest attempt at encouraging a response and organizing those with similar ideas.
In conclusion, you may think this is all nonsense; that it’ll never fly; that it’s a mere shadow, a weak one at that, of what surrealism attempted. But, if anywhere in this essay you were moved, provoked, or inspired to create, then you’ve discovered a prerealist spirit within yourself. To explore this further, to understand it more fully, merely pick up a pen and paper. No one else can help you, and no one else ever should.
Copyright © 1995 by Cameron A. Straughan
This essay originally appeared in The Eclectic Reader, Issue #1, March, 1995.