What Does Surreal Mean?

Surreal is a term that you might have come across in an art gallery, a literature class, or perhaps in a discussion about dreams. The word ‘Surreal’ originated from the Surrealist movement in the early 20th century, which was primarily an artistic and literary movement. The word itself comes from the French “sur,” meaning “above,” and “réel,” meaning “real”. Together, they form ‘surreal’, literally translating to ‘above reality’.

However, in common parlance, what does the term ‘surreal’ denote? To put it simply, ‘surreal’ refers to something that is very strange or unusual to the point of being dreamlike or even fantastical. It is a term mostly used when normal laws of reality are suspended, and the unbelievable enters the realm of the plausible.

The quintessential characteristic of anything surreal lies within this concept of being beyond or above reality- straddling the line between the dream world and the real world. This can encompass a wide spectrum of experiences, objects, or even sentiments. For instance, if you walk into an unusually designed, gravity-defying building, or happen to view a dramatic, almost otherworldly sunset, these experiences may seem surreal because they are beyond the confines of what you typically perceive as real or normal.

Often, surreal is used to describe situations or moments that are so strange, bizarre, or outlandish that you have difficulty believing that they are actually happening. For example, winning the lottery could feel surreal to someone who has been struggling financially, as the sudden change in fortune would be so unexpected and dramatic that it disrupts their sense of reality.

In terms of arts and literature, ‘surreal’ is a crucial component in surrealism, which was a cultural movement in the early 20th-century Europe. Artists and writers of this movement sought to channel the unconscious mind to unleash their creativity and power. They sought to juxtapose the world of dreams and fantasies with reality, creating art that was a wild intermixing of the two. The paintings of Salvador Dali, for instance, are classic examples of surrealistic art, where elements of reality are distorted to create a fantastical, dreamlike image.

In a nutshell, the word ‘surreal’ encompasses anything that challenges or goes beyond our conventional understanding of reality. It denotes an experience, object or sentiment which transcends the ordinary, defies logic or is unnaturally unusual to the point that it seems dreamlike or fantastical. However, just like a surreal painting or a surreal piece of literature, the meaning of the term ‘surreal’ itself might reveal different colors and shades to different individuals, based on their perception, understanding, and experience.