Difference Wiki

Expressionism vs. Surrealism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on November 24, 2023
Expressionism refers to an art movement emphasizing the expression of emotional experience over realism. Surrealism refers to an artistic movement focusing on the exploration of the unconscious mind and dream-like scenarios.

Key Differences

Expressionism is an art movement that emerged in the early 20th century, focusing on representing emotional experience rather than physical reality. Surrealism, which developed in the 1920s, delves into the unconscious mind, presenting dream-like, often illogical scenes.
Expressionism uses distortion and exaggeration to convey emotional states and inner feelings. In contrast, Surrealism often employs bizarre, fantastical imagery to explore the subconscious and the irrational.
Artists in Expressionism often use intense color and dynamic, often distorted forms to evoke moods and ideas. Surrealist artists, however, draw on dream imagery and unexpected juxtapositions to challenge rational thought and conventional reality.
While Expressionism is centered on the artist's subjective perspective and emotional response to the world, Surrealism aims to unlock the creative potential of the unconscious mind through surprising, often perplexing imagery.
Expressionism often reflects a personal, introspective journey, channeling the artist's internal experiences. Surrealism, by contrast, seeks to transcend the personal, tapping into universal aspects of the human psyche and the strange, often unsettling world of dreams.

Comparison Chart


Emotional experience and subjective reality
Unconscious mind and dream-like imagery

Artistic Techniques

Distortion, exaggeration, intense color
Bizarre, fantastical imagery, illogical scenes

Underlying Concept

Conveying internal feelings and moods
Exploring the subconscious and irrational

Origin Timeframe

Early 20th century


Personal, introspective, emotional
Universal, subconscious, dream-like

Expressionism and Surrealism Definitions


Art that conveys subjective emotions and experiences.
Her expressionist artworks powerfully depict the turmoil of the human psyche.


Artistic movement focusing on the exploration of the unconscious and dream-like scenarios.
The painting's illogical, dreamy landscape reflects the principles of Surrealism.


An art movement emphasizing emotional expression over realism.
The stark colors and distorted forms in his painting are characteristic of Expressionism.


Art that transcends reality, tapping into the universal unconscious.
The surrealistic painting portrays a world where logic is defied and dreams come


A style where artists express inner feelings rather than external reality.
Expressionism in this sculpture is evident in its exaggerated, emotive form.


Art that combines bizarre and fantastical elements to challenge reality.
Her surrealistic art often features unexpected juxtapositions of ordinary objects.


Art characterized by distortion and exaggeration for emotional effect.
The intense, moody landscapes in his works show the influence of Expressionism.


Style emphasizing the irrational and subconscious mind.
This surrealist sculpture explores themes of the subconscious through abstract forms.


A movement focusing on the artist’s personal view and emotional response.
The expressionist painting captures the artist's anxiety about the modern world.


Movement characterized by dream-like imagery and unexpected combinations.
The surrealism in his work is evident in its dreamlike quality and strange symbols.


A movement in the arts during the early 1900s that emphasized distortion of external reality in order to express the artist's subjective experience.


A literary and artistic movement of the 1900s that attempts to express the workings of the subconscious and is characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.


A movement in the arts in which the artist did not depict objective reality, but rather a subjective expression of their inner experiences


Literature or art produced in this style.


A somewhat analogous genre in early 20th century music


An artistic movement and an aesthetic philosophy that aims for the liberation of the mind by emphasizing the critical and imaginative powers of the subconscious.


An art movement early in the 20th century; the artist's subjective expression of inner experiences was emphasized.


A 20th century movement of artists and writers (developing out of Dadaism) who used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams


A genre of German painting that tried to show the subjective responses to scenes rather than the scenes themselves.


An art movement early in the 20th century; the artist's subjective expression of inner experiences was emphasized; an inner feeling was expressed through a distorted rendition of reality


How does Surrealism differ from traditional realism?

Surrealism delves into the unconscious mind, creating dream-like, irrational scenarios.

Did Expressionism influence any later art movements?

Yes, Expressionism influenced several modern and contemporary art movements.

Does Surrealism have a specific style or technique?

Surrealism is defined more by its conceptual approach than by a specific style.

Do Surrealist artists always depict realistic objects?

Not necessarily, as Surrealism often involves altering or reimagining reality.

What makes Surrealist art distinct?

Its use of bizarre, fantastical imagery to explore subconscious thoughts.

What is the main goal of Expressionism?

To express emotional experience and inner feelings.

Can Expressionism be seen in other forms besides visual art?

Yes, Expressionism also influences literature, theatre, and film.

Is color important in Expressionist art?

Yes, intense and often non-naturalistic color is a key feature of Expressionism.

How did Expressionism start?

It emerged as a reaction against the impersonal and industrialized nature of the early 20th century.

What inspires Surrealist artists?

The workings of the unconscious mind, dreams, and psychoanalytic theories.

Does Surrealism always make sense at first glance?

Not usually, as it aims to surprise and puzzle by defying logical interpretations.

Can Expressionism be abstract?

Yes, Expressionism can be both figurative and abstract.

How does Surrealism challenge viewers?

By presenting irrational and dream-like scenes that defy conventional logic.

Can Expressionism be dark or disturbing?

Yes, it often explores intense, sometimes dark emotional states.

Is Surrealism limited to painting?

No, Surrealism extends to sculpture, literature, film, and other art forms.

Can Expressionism convey positive emotions?

Yes, while often intense, Expressionism can express a range of emotions, including joy.

Is dream imagery a common feature in Surrealism?

Yes, dream-like and illogical imagery is a hallmark of Surrealist art.

Are emotions the primary focus of Expressionist art?

Yes, expressing emotions and subjective experiences is central to Expressionism.

Does Expressionism focus on individual perspective?

Yes, it's centered on the artist's personal view and emotional response.

Are there famous artists associated with Surrealism?

Yes, artists like Salvador Dalí and René Magritte are well-known Surrealists.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons