One of the difficulties in writing about the modern isms is that their practitioners wrote so much about themselves. But there's no reason that should stop us. They certainly didn't exhaust the subject, and what they did write was frequently disingenuous. They often had their own political and social agendas.|
They also may have been off-base in their analyses of their own art. Many great artists were notoriously unintellectual, and some seemed to have so little knowledge of their true place in the art world that their comments were bizarre.
After that warning, let's try to define surrealism as:
A superstylistic movement in the representational arts
characterized by sharp delineation and precise depiction of detail, and by
distortions of context (Magritte, Escher, Borges) and of basic natural
features (Dali, Marquez). Most artists belong to both groups.
The intention seems to be to produce a heightened perceptual awareness
of reality as a whole, and thus a heightened emotional awareness, by the
juxtaposition of the superreal and the impossible. The practitioners tend
to social criticism.
Though the movement seems to have originated in painting, where it was
strongly influenced by cubism, it seems more directly derived from
French poetry, and to derive penultimately from Baudelaire's theory
of correspondences. In some cases (Ellison, Kundera), the
form seems more the result of intense social experience than of artistic
influence, the artistic counterpart of the psychogenic hallucination.