Dada and surrealism
Surrealism, best known for its visual artworks and writings, is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s. Its precursor, Dada, emerged during World War I, and was a reaction to the absurdity of modern times, including the notion of a war to end all wars. The most important center for both movements was Paris, but its ideas eventually went global.
The aim of Dada and Surrealism was to integrate previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into a super-reality. Artists painted illogical scenes with photographic precision, with the intention of unnerving the viewer via bizarre images often developed from the use of everyday objects.
Dada and surrealism feature elements of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequiturs. Although it became a serious medium for visual artists, it also attracted many writers, musicians and dramatists. It often played on words, turning puns into visual images, and delighted in turning the public’s head on its ear. Many of its core adherents and practitioners regarded Surrealism as a philosophy first but ultimately, a revolutionary movement.
Mercury the cerebral magician
From the astrologers of antiquity up to researchers of the modern era, eg, statistician Michel Gauquelin, we know that most professions can be attributed to certain planets or combinations of planets. For example, Mars is the significator for athletes, police and military; Jupiter for writers and teachers; Saturn for scientists, and so on.
Although astrologers typically assign Venus rulership of art, in the case of Dada and Surrealism we are confronted with a niche in the art world that might best be referred to as concept art. For instance, Dada and Surrealism, rather than relying upon traditional notions of aesthetics, make great use of illogic vs logic, incongruity of every kind, puns, and trompe l’oeil, ie, optical illusion.
In other words, the Dada/Surrealists are playing games with the audience. If not literally tricking our eyes, they are messing with our minds, and indeed our traditional notions of what constitutes art. Their work is chockfull of ideas intended to provoke discussion and debate. And because of this, Mercury the archetypal trickster and cerebral magician may be the most appropriate significator for this whole art movement.
If you can accept that notion, let the mind games begin…
To prepare for this study, I first relied on Wikipedia to identify the Top 30 artists in the Dada and Surrealist movements. I then checked Astrodienst (astro.com) and found accurate (Rodden AA) birth data for 20 of them. Their names appear in the table below.
For each artist with known birth time, I noted their Lagna and Moon signs. But what I was really interested in were the two planets ruling them – the lagnesh, and the Moon’s lord.
The lagnesh is the key individuating factor, because the ascendant is the fastest moving point of traditional interest in the birth chart. The next most dynamic element of the chart is the Moon, which changes sign every 2.5 days. The Sun, Mercury and Venus are the next most dynamic, but they only change sign every month, so they are poor individuators of anything.
These two – lagnesh and Moon lord – are the planets of interest. So going into this study, I anticipated Mercury might turn up as a signature planet among Dada and Surrealist artists, ie, well-represented among these ascendant lords and Moon dispositors.
The following table lists the artists under consideration. Some art historians may quibble with some inclusions, but there’s no doubt they are all birds of a feather. Picasso, for instance, was much admired by the Surrealists for his cubist work, and was courted and encouraged to join the club, but declined.
I sorted this list by frequency of ascendant lord, and found that Mercury was the lagnesh a third (7/20) of the time. Moon came second, Mars and Venus third.
When I sorted the list by frequency of Moon dispositor, Mercury and Mars each appeared a quarter (5/20) of the time. Jupiter wasn’t far behind those two.
Finally, I added the frequency counts for each planet – once if lagnesh, again if the Moon’s lord – and tallied the results. The chart below shows that Mercury as a key individuator turns up most frequently at 30% (12/40) of the time. Mars is runner-up, appearing 20% (8/40) of the time. The Moon came in third, appearing 15% (6/40) of the time.
If we think about it, we’d expect the Sun and Moon to be poorly-represented, since they each own only one sign apiece. But the true planets – Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn – all own two signs apiece and are therefore expected to emerge as significators twice as often as the luminaries.
In the case of ascendants, however, there’s another factor that must be considered: ascension time. In the sidereal zodiac the signs of long ascension – Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra and Scorpio – take longer to rise, and thus collectively occupy the eastern horizon for more hours of the day than signs of short ascension. Among these signs of long ascension, note both Gemini and Virgo. As a consequence, Mercury-ruled ascendants are more common than any other.
Although this does not apply to the proportion of time the Moon spends in any sign, the bias in ascendants must be accounted for. Therefore, after factoring in signs of short and long ascension, and single-vs-dual sign rulership, I calculated the expected representation of the planets, as shown in the graph below, for comparison against their actual appearance.
Note that the Moon, Mars and Mercury in the charts of these artists appear more frequently than expected by chance. Mercury remains the outstanding performer, appearing roughly 61% more often than expected. Mars, although coming second, only exceeds expectations by 24%. Meanwhile the Moon, despite coming in third, actually appears 56% more often than expected by chance.
Rationalizing the irrational
Since it was my original hypothesis, it’s no surprise that cerebral Mercury emerged as the dominant planet among Dada and Surrealist artists, the pioneers of concept art. Admittedly, it’s a small sample, but we’re astrologers first, statisticians second, and we do what we can with what’s available. Having already explained why Mercury the trickster has an affinity with Dada and Surrealism, it only remains now to rationalize the frequency of Mars and the Moon, as opposed to some other “artistic” planet, say Venus.
For centuries, Mars was the proverbial thorn in the side of astrologers because its lengthy retrogression cycles confounded the ability of astronomers to accurately calculate its orbital motion. For that very same reason, Hindu astrologers sometimes called Mars “Vakra,” the crooked one, because its movements were so irregular, and therefore unpredictable. For symbolic reasons, it was likewise regarded as a rebel, a renegade, an iconoclast who violated normal expectations.
Once we understand the astronomical background, we can better appreciate the astrological associations. Among the traditional planets, Mars is regarded as a rule-violator and a shit-disturber, someone disinclined to go along with the normal order of things. And for that very reason, Mars is an ideal co-significator for the Dada/Surrealist movement. That whole gang of artists liked nothing better than to antagonize, disgust, provoke and vex the entire art establishment of the day, if not indeed, the political status quo.
As for the Moon, its constantly-changing appearance is a useful metaphor for phases of popular fashion or fame. In jyotish, the Moon also governs perceptions, so whether we think of this as a personal faculty (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) or a public opinion (eg, what constitutes art?), we’re confronted with the notion that, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Except in the case of many Dada and Surrealist works, this could be amended to: meaning lies in the eye of the beholder. And so, even as the artist plays mind games with our perception of his art, something is happening to provoke a fresh perception of the ideas that underlie the art.
Just as love is a many-splendored thing, art is a many-layered thing…
Now that we’ve done a “statistical” analysis of key planets in the charts of 20 Dada/Surrealist artists, let’s take a closer look at four principals of the movement. In the examples below, I didn’t cherry-pick them for their astrological attributes, but simply selected the most renowned. André Breton, although his name isn’t known to the general public, is generally acknowledged as the founder of Surrealism. Max Ernst was a major figure in the Dada movement that morphed into Surrealism. René Magritte was perhaps the best-known of the early Surrealists. And Salvador Dali is so well-known that his name is practically synonymous with Surrealism.
André Breton was French. He attended medical school, but his studies were interrupted by WW1, and he was assigned to a neurological ward for shell-shocked soldiers. After his first marriage he settled in Paris, associating with many radical artists and writers of the day, many of whom disdained the contemporary art establishment.
He launched literary reviews, helped found the Bureau of Surrealist Research, and published the seminal Surrealist Manifesto, in which he defined surrealism as “Psychic automatism by which one expresses, through the written word or any other manner, the actual functioning of thought, absent any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”
Breton was an equal-opportunity agitator, as involved in politics as he was in the art world. For a time he was a communist, until an argument with a leading Soviet writer ended in a fistfight. Later he became something of an anarchist opposed to French colonialism, and supported Algeria’s war of independence. Even his passion for Surrealism sometimes went too far, his hard-sell tactics failing to recruit Picasso, while his demands for allegiance alienated Dali. Yet without his influence, Surrealism might never have been defined.
André Breton has Virgo rising, so his lagnesh is Mercury, retrograde in the 5th house of creativity. It’s influenced only by the two prime benefics – association with 5th lord Venus (Raja Yoga) and mutual aspect from an exalted and retrograde 4th/7th lord Jupiter (another two Raja Yogas). This bestows some traditional aesthetics (Venus) as well as philosophy (Jupiter), the latter of which was key, since Breton saw Surrealism as something bigger than art – a philosophical revolution.
Note as well that Venus and Saturn are in Parivartana Yoga between the 2nd and 5th houses, a classic signature for authorship.
From the perspective of the Moon (Chandralagna), all the benefics (Mercury, Jupiter, Venus) are in kendras, along with exalted Saturn. This pattern reflected perhaps his hope that the masses (the Moon) would be so aroused by the philosophical ideas (Mercury, Jupiter) of Surrealism that they would be inspired to overthrow the political status quo (Saturn exalted).
The Moon’s dispositor is Mars in fiery Sagittarius, again invoking notions of revolt and radicalism. Mars is the only planet in kendra from the lagna, reflecting Breton’s passion and his militant stance on certain Surrealist principles dear to his heart. Within the movement there were many spirited arguments sparked by Breton, some of which ended in fistfights, banishments and mean-spirited vendettas, the artistic equivalent of a fatwa against people who disagreed with him.
Like many a person with a dual sign rising, Breton’s marital life was somewhat irregular, and he was married three times. The 7th house is a keeta rashi, suggesting some of this multiplicity. Its lord Jupiter, although doubly strong, is afflicted by aspects from both Mars and Saturn, a dynamic that reflected on his contentious relationships – personal, professional and political.
Max Ernst was German. His father was an amateur painter and strict disciplinarian who inspired in his son a penchant for defying authority. After finishing university, Ernst began to paint, and to visit insane asylums where he became fascinated with the art of mentally ill patients. Military service in WW1 was so devastating that he considered himself to have died in the war, only to be reborn again after the Armistice.
Following demobilization, Ernst became active in German art circles, forming friendships with many artists in the Dada movement. He started working with collage, which became one of his dominant media, and experimented with other techniques. He divorced his wife, moved to Paris, and entered a ménage à trois with another artist, sharing the affections of Gala, who later became Salvador Dali’s lifelong muse and companion. He developed a fascination with birds, whose imagery appeared in many of his works.
He remarried again, divorced, and was briefly interned in France at the outset of WW2 as an “undesirable foreigner.” Thanks to the efforts of friends, he was released, after which he promptly immigrated to America with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, a bohemian socialite art collector with a voracious sexual appetite whom he later married. In New York he helped inspire the development of abstract expressionism.
Ernst was a great experimenter. He invented frottage, which creates images by rubbing a pencil over a rough surface in order to capture its texture. He also experimented with grattage, which involves scratching the surface of a painting, and with decalcomania, which involves altering a wet painting by pressing something else against it before removing it to leave a composite image.
Max Ernst has Gemini rising, and his lagnesh Mercury is debilitated in 10th house Pisces. It’s associated only with the Sun, lord of the 3rd and therefore the significator of artistic talents and prowess.
His Moon’s dispositor is Jupiter, which associates with Venus in the 9th to form two Raja Yogas.
It’s also noteworthy that Ernst has a powerful Mars in the 11th, the strongest planet in his chart and well-placed by house. As mentioned earlier, Mars is one of those planets associated with innovation, novelty, unpredictability and thumbing one’s nose at the Establishment.
Like many another dual-signed ascendant, Ernst not only had eclectic interests in art, but a willingness to experiment with relationships. Aside from having many lovers and cohabitation partners, he was married four times. The Moon, most ephemeral of the planets, occupies dual Sagittarius in the 7th. And the 7th lord Jupiter associates with 12th lord Venus (secret lovers) while being opposed by libidinous Saturn.
René Magritte was Dutch. He began taking drawing lessons when he was 10 years old. His mother, who’d made several suicide attempts over the years, drowned herself when he was 13. After a formal education at an esteemed art academy, he became disillusioned with traditional art and began to experiment with cubism and futurism. After an exhibition of his work in Brussels received abusive criticism, he became depressed and moved to Paris, where his work was soon embraced by the Surrealists.
Magritte developed an illusionistic, dream-like style of painting that became his signature technique. He became a leading member of the Surrealism movement, and remained in Paris for three years. Although respected as an artist, he couldn’t make a living, and moved back to Brussels to open an ad agency with his brother. In the lean post-WW2 period, he supported himself by producing fake Picassos, Braques and Chiricos, even forging banknotes.
In the 1950s he returned to the style and themes of his pre-war surreal art and built his reputation all over again, this time in America as well. His work frequently displayed a collection of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. Popular interest in Magritte’s work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery subsequently influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art.
René Magritte has Scorpio rising, making Mars his lagnesh. Mars is well-placed in the 9th, and even though it’s debilitated, it still has the power to express itself in a radical way. It enjoys a moderate form of Neecha Bhanga Yoga, since its dispositor the Moon is in a kendra, as is Saturn, the lord of Capricorn in which Mars would be exalted.
The lagna, plus four planets in Scorpio, reflects his ability to doggedly persevere with his art through many lean years before he achieved artistic and financial success.
The Moon’s dispositor is Saturn, the lord of the artistic 3rd house. Furthermore, Saturn is associated with Venus the significator of the arts, and Mercury the cerebral planet that plays a key role in trompe l’oeil, the optical illusions of which Magritte was so fond.
With a fixed sign rising and Venus the 7th lord also in a fixed sign, Magritte evidenced at least some persistence in his marriage. Although he once had an affair with his model, and encouraged another artist friend to console his wife by wooing her, their marriage remained intact, with no more than a few intervening years of infidelity.
Salvador Dali was Spanish. His father said he was the reincarnation of a brother who’d died nine months earlier. During his adolescence, his father made him view pictures of people in advanced stages of decay from sexually transmitted diseases, which inspired in Dali a lifelong fear of sexual intimacy. In later years, his father disinherited him because of his relationship with Gala, ten years Dali’s senior, but they later reconciled.
Dali studied art in Madrid, experimented with cubism, but was expelled for causing unrest. He moved to Paris and met his idol Picasso. He was a highly skilled draftsman influenced by Renaissance masters, but often included both classic and modern techniques in his work, to the consternation of critics.
He claimed Moorish ancestry to explain his love of things luxurious, gilded and excessive. He was highly imaginative, indulging in grandiose eccentric behavior, to the irritation of critics and others who held his work in high esteem.
By the 1930s, Dali had completely embraced Surrealism, both in art and public appearances, which bordered on performance art. After a political argument with André Breton, he was expelled from the Surrealist movement. Ironically, Dali eventually secured a reputation for himself such that his name is more likely than any to evoke Surrealism.
Dali and his muse Gala spent WW2 in America but eventually returned to Spain to live out his final three decades, highly productive and experimenting with multiple techniques, including pointillism, stereoscopic images and holography. Later pop artists like Lichtensetin and Warhol cited him as a primary influence.
Symptomatic of his personality, Dali had dozens of quirks. When signing autographs for fans, he always kept their pens. He frequently traveled with his pet ocelot. He avoided paying restaurant bills by drawing on the back of his checks, correctly anticipating that the restaurant owner would rather keep the drawing than cash the check.
Salvador Dali has Gemini Rising, so his lagnesh is also Mercury. Here Mercury is in mixed condition, both retrograde and combust, in the 12th house with rebellious Mars. So in his case, we have the two primary “signature” planets of Dada and Surrealism joining forces in the 12th. Since this is the place for “pleasures of the bed,” it’s perhaps no surprise to note that many of Dali’s works incorporated either sexual imagery, eg, rhino horns, or juxtapositions of imagery that conjure up the notion of fevered dreams.
The great irony here is that Dali personally avoided sexual intimacy with others. Although Gala had many affairs over the years, Dali was reputed to be content with self-gratification. Astrologically, the rationale for this might be found in the powerful but repressive Saturn in its own sign in the 8th house of sex-for-sex’s-sake. Alternatively, we might see the Parivartana Yoga between Venus and Mars, the archetypal passion planets, as provoking the negation of “bed pleasures.”
The Moon’s dispositor is Jupiter, which is in its own sign, strong in the 10th house, and an obvious indicator of the fame he enjoyed.
Last but not least, the Sun as lord of the artistic 3rd is exalted in the 11th, reflecting his prodigious activity. Its entwinement with the Parivartana Yoga between 11th and 12th lords might have provided the only channel – an artistic one – for his thwarted sexuality.
Although Surrealism has waned as a contemporary art movement, over the decades its public appeal has continued unabated, and remains popular with museum patrons. In 1999 the Guggenheim Museum in New York hosted a well-attended major exhibit, and in 2001 the Tate Modern held an exhibition of Surrealist art that attracted over 170,000 visitors.
Although Surrealism is typically associated with the arts, it has also transcended art by instigating creative acts of revolt in the hopes of liberating the imagination. In this regard it has been successful in provoking fierce debate among writers, visual artists and architects of social change. The combination of Mercurial ideas, charged with the fiery passion of Mars, has left an indelible mark on Western society.
Alan Annand is a graduate of the American College of Vedic Astrology and a former tutor for the British Faculty of Astrological Studies. His New Age Noir crime novels (Scorpio Rising, Felonious Monk, Soma County) feature astrologer and palmist Axel Crowe, whom one reviewer has dubbed “Sherlock Holmes with a horoscope.”
He’s also the author of several non-fiction books. Stellar Astrology, Volumes 1 & 2, offer a wealth of time-tested techniques in the form of biographical profiles, analyses of world events, and technical essays. Parivartana Yoga is a reference text for one of the most common yet powerful planetary combinations in jyotish. Mutual Reception is an expanded companion volume for western practitioners, covering the same subject of planetary exchange through the lens of traditional astrology.
Websites: www.navamsa.com, www.sextile.com