The Art of Provocation 

Our colleague Benjamin Peret in the act of insulting a priest-La Revolution Surrealiste December 1926
Being born out of anarchic Dada, the Surrealists delighted in provoking shock and outrage. The targets were the traditional representatives of bourgeois society; the law, the army and politicians. However they reserved their greatest contempt for the Church and never missed an opportunity in attempting to scandalize an institution that would frequently rise to the bait.

Is the above photograph an example of a chance encounter, an event so beloved by the Surrealists, that Peret found too tempting to pass up; or is rather a more calculated, stage-managed affair? Either way it remains a provocation.

36 thoughts on “The Art of Provocation 

  1. Perfect title Mr. Cake, “The Art of Provocation”. With Peret, you do wonder if it was staged, although the outcome was probably the same, resulting in a perfect photo opportunity. As always, a very interesting post. ~ Miss Cranes

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  2. Ah, I see. At first I thought this was from a newspaper or something. But the surrealists were responsible for the photo. Very interesting.

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  3. I bet this priest walked the same road everyday and they set it up so the photographer hid while Peret insulted the guy. 😀 Funny.

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    1. You are probably right… it was a clever and slick piece of PR though, those Surrealist magazines had maybe a readership of a couple of thousand but by being scandalous the piece was picked up by right wing national newspapers who banged on about the threat to civilisation etc. Free press for the movement!

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      1. I like a bit of provocation and scandal myself….trouble is hardly anything is shocking any more. I have always envied Catholics as they can fully enjoy the pleasure of blasphemy.

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      2. Ha ha, well it did make me laugh because it was surprising! But I know you, Mr. Cake. It would take a very lot for you to shock me.

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  4. I’m captured by the title alone. The art of provocation. I mean that can be meant in so many ways, to provoke, provoking (emotion? anger?) the artistry of the provoke. I like this because I think in our inflamed world we do this all the time and someone who knows how to do it well is a master (and a demon) whereas if you do not understand (the art) you are always one step behind. It speaks to modern times. In the olden days it was an allure and provocation had more power for being more deliberate and less sanctioned, thus more audacious.


    1. Yes Breton himself commented in the early sixties to Luis Bunuel that it was so hard to shock and that it meant less than it used to. I am always trying but nothing is shocking these days.


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