Online Course: Surrealism – 1920s to Now

Mon 14 Sep, 12am

Past program

This program takes place virtually

This course commenced on 24 August. Enrolments have been extended to Sunday 13 September. Once enrolled you can start the course at any time. Please allow up to 48 hours to receive your login details. Access to the course content is available until 18 October.

NGV curators and guests present an intermediate level study of the history of Surrealism and its ongoing influence on contemporary art and visual culture.

Starting with the birth of the movement in Europe in the 1920s, the course introduces the key techniques and processes used by the Surrealists, its arrival in Australia in the 1930s and the ways that it continues to be referenced by artists, film-makers and advertisers working today.

This course is self-guided and delivered through introductory videos, essay readings, activities and quizzes developed by NGV curators, specialist academics and industry experts.


Week 1 – Surrealism in Europe
Learn how the unprecedented violence of the First World War, and the political and psychological theories of the 1920s, led to the founding of the Surrealist movement in 1924 with the publication of the first Surrealist Manifesto. Who were the key artists behind the movement, and why did it become so prevalent?

Week 2 – Surrealist Techniques
Surrealist poets and artists developed an array of unconventional techniques and processes, tapping into the subconscious realm as well as experiments that overturned the notion of individual authorship and intentionality. Explore a selection of Surrealist techniques in detail including automatic processes, collage and Surrealist games including the exquisite corpse.

Week 3 – Sex and Violence in Surrealism
While many are familiar with the more popular and well-known aspects of Surrealism, what is less well-known is the darker elements that underpinned the movement. Why did the Surrealists have an obsession with sex and violence, and how was this reflected in their art? Please note this section of the course includes content that some people may find confronting. Parental guidance is recommended for learners under 18 years of age.

Week 4 – Surrealism in Australia
Following the birth of Surrealism in France in the 1920s, Surrealism quickly spread throughout Europe and then the world – arriving in Australia in the 1930s. How did Surrealism take hold in Australia, and who were the key artists that adopted the movement?

Week 5 – Surrealism in the Contemporary
How and why do contemporary artists employ and adapt the concepts, techniques and methods of Surrealism? How is Surrealism continuing to influence contemporary visual culture, from film-makers to advertisers? Learn about the ongoing influence of the movement with examples of works in the NGV Collection and case studies of advertising and film.


  • Define the history and evolution of Surrealism
  • Identify key Surrealist artists
  • Describe the role that Surrealism played in Australian art
  • Discuss and interpret Surrealist art
  • Summarise the influence of Surrealism on contemporary art and visual culture
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