BA History of Art

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Surrealism, Gender, Sexuality

Course unit fact file
Unit code AHCP23712
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course addresses issues of gender and sexuality in surrealism and its legacies. Surrealism put sexual desire at the centre of its revolutionary practice. It can legitimately claim to have been the very avant-garde of the modern discourse of sexuality in France, pioneering the reception of psychoanalysis, while valorising sexual perversion and pathology. The heterosexist structure of orthodox surrealism is evident in its cult of ‘woman’, and its leader’s (selective) repudiation of male homosexuality. We will interrogate and critique that structure, considering its (and our own) historicity, while examining how surrealist visual and textual production put at risk or ‘queered’ normative masculinity. We will see how women artists and writers appropriated and critically redeployed surrealist tactics. In order to pursue these topics we will acquaint  ourselves more generally with the history and theory of gender and sexuality in modern Europe, making use of psychoanalytic, feminist, and queer-theoretical perspectives.



  • Analyse the history and theory of surrealism and its legacies
  • Introduce students to the history and theory of sexuality
  • Introduce students to the history and theory of gender

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this module, students will be able:

  • to account for key texts and artworks by artists, filmmakers, photographers and writers such as Eileen Agar, Georges Bataille, Louise Bourgeois, André Breton, Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Max Ernst, Lee Miller, Dorothea Tanning
  • to discuss theories of gender and sexuality as they have been set out by such figures as Judith Butler, Michel Foucault and Sigmund Freud
  • to describe historical and cultural contexts for the emergence of surrealism and the discourse of sexuality
  • to analyse artworks and texts in relation to historical and theoretical discourses about sexuality and gender
  • to recount debates within art history about the function of sexuality and gender in the historical avant-garde


Intellectual skills

  • Analyse primary images and texts in the history and theory of surrealism and its legacies
  • Analyse scholarly texts about the history and theory of surrealism, gender, and sexuality
  • Articulate critical positions in relation to the history and theory of surrealism, gender and sexuality

Practical skills

  • Articulate ideas in group discussion
  • Construct arguments in essay form
  • Comprehend challenging texts
  • Render images into discourse 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • High-level text and image analysis
  • Interpersonal and organisational skills
  • Planning and executing discursive argumentation
  • Participate constructively in seminar discussions
  • Specialised expertise in art, literature and theory 

Assessment methods

Plan for Essay  0%
Essay 1 40%
Essay 2 60%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative






Recommended reading

Patricia Allmer and Mary Ann Caws, Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism

Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye

Katharine Conley, Automatic Woman: The Representation of Women in Surrealism

 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Volume I: The Will to Knowledge

Amy Lyford, Surrealist Masculinities

Jennifer Mundy, ed., Surrealism: Desire Unbound

Jose Pierre, ed., Investigating Sex: Surrealist Research 1928-32

Susan Rubin Suleiman, Subversive Intent

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Charles Miller Unit coordinator

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