Escape from Reality: Miró and Surrealism

Explore Surrealist characteristics in Miró’s artwork.

How did Miró’s work reflect Surrealist characteristics?


Key Staff

This lesson may be taught by an Art or Art History Teacher. Other teachers should work in tandem with either an Art or Art History Teacher when presenting this lesson.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing, Composing and Planning
Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique, Understanding Genres


This lesson will introduce the history and concepts of the Surrealist movement. With this foundation, students will learn about, research and present findings about the art of Joan Miró and his place within the Surrealist movement. This lesson will culminate in the creation of artwork based on the methods and characteristics of Miró and Surrealism.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the characteristics of Surrealist artwork.
  • Learn about Miró's painting style and common characteristics of his work.
  • Understand Miró's place within the Surrealist movement.
  • Practice art techniques employed by Miró and the Surrealists.
  • Create an original piece of artwork using Surrealist techniques.
  • Explain the concepts behind their artwork.
  • Participate in class discussions and critique classmates’ work using appropriate vocabulary.

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Reflection
  • Experiential Learning
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • Projector
Required Plugins
Technology Notes

Check all Web links in the lesson to make sure they are still active.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Prior Student Knowledge

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Media Center or Library
  • Computer Lab
  • Visual Arts Studio


Small Group Instruction


  • The graphic or explicit nature of some of the artwork may not be suitable for the classroom. Carefully peruse the Web links and images beforehand to determine if they are appropriate.
  • This lesson relies heavily on Web links and images found on the Web. Be sure to check that all links (within the body of the lesson and on the worksheets) are active prior to teaching the lesson.
  • If painting will be done in a classroom (rather than a visual arts studio) be sure to provide drop cloths and a space to hang the paintings to dry.
  • Accessibility Notes

    Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Show The Tilled Field, located within the Resource Carousel, by Miró. Tell students the artist and painting names. Ask students to think about how it demonstrates elements of Surrealism. Elicit or point out the following:

  • How the odd collection of objects and figures creates a dream-like quality, which attests to the artist’s imagination.
  • The three flags in the painting are symbolic, referring to a region of Spain, Catalan, that wished to secede.
  • Another Surrealist characteristic, familiar objects in unfamiliar places, is demonstrated in this painting by the eye that is located the middle of the tree.

Allow students time to discuss and raise questions about any other Surrealist characteristics or elements (color, shape, composition, etc.) of the painting.

2. Provide background information on Miró. Joan Miró was a Spanish painter who took great pride in the area of Spain he was from, Catalan. Although he never officially considered himself a Surrealist, because he did not want to be limited by the movement, he was heavily influenced by Surrealist ideas. In particular, he made use of automatism to experiment with new painting techniques. In his later career, he experimented with other art forms, including sculpture, collage, ceramics and murals.

3. Show Harlequin’s Carnival, located within the Resource Carousel, by Miró. Ask students to examine the painting and think about whether or not it fits into the Surrealist movement. Elicit or point out the following characteristics of the painting:

  • Repeated lines and shapes
  • Basic shapes (geometric and biomorphic)
  • Symbols and imagery (e.g., eye)
  • Basic primary color palette
  • Dream-like quality (random images in an odd arrangement)

Have students use the title to think about what the theme or meaning behind the painting is. The painting is likely intended to display a more humorous and light-hearted side of human nature.

Build Knowledge

1. Study Miró’s life. Students should individually complete the Miró Biography Worksheet located within the Resource Carousel by exploring the Web sites listed on it. In pairs, students should share their research from the Miró Biography Worksheet.

2. Prepare for presentation. Each pair should explore the Web sites listed on the Miró Research Presentation Worksheet found within the Resource Carousel and choose one piece of artwork to research and present to the class. Due to the graphic nature of some of Miró’s work, teachers should conference with the students to determine if they have selected an appropriate piece. Using the Miró Research Presentation Worksheet as a guide, students should outline a 2-3 minute presentation and be able to project the artwork to the class.

3. Present research and artwork. Each pair should project their artwork and discuss it for 2-3 minutes. Students in the audience should fill out the Miró Presentation Notes Worksheet found within the Resource Carousel. Allow time for questions in between each presentation. It may be helpful to generate and post a list of recurring characteristics in Miró’s work that are noted during the presentation.


Students will each create their own painting based on the style and methods of Miró. Since Miró often created his works through automatism, students will first participate in a game and create sketches in order to practice and develop free association.

1. Review automatism. Remind students that automatism is a technique that helps to remove rational thought from the creative process and to access the unconscious mind. Visual artists in the Surrealist movement used it to help put images together in a totally new fashion. Literary artists in the movement used a form of automatism by freely associating words or phrases.

2. Play Exquisite Corpse. The Surrealist artists commonly played this game to access the unconscious. Here is a drawing produced by Miró and other Surrealists while playing this game. Students should be organized into groups of 4-5 and may play a writing and/or drawing version of the game.

3. Create automatic drawings. Inform students that Miró often used this technique to develop the sketches that he later used for his paintings. Hand out the drawing paper and encourage students to let their hands more randomly and freely across the paper. Students should try to make several drawings in this manner. Teachers may choose to play music in the background to inspire students.

4. Create painting. Students should use their drawings to guide their painting. If possible, students should try to incorporate the characteristics of Surrealist paintings and Miró’s work into their own paintings. Review these characteristics as needed. Distribute the canvases and other art supplies.


Display student work. Each student should:

  • Present their painting and the name of the painting, if any.
  • Describe how they felt when using automatism and whether or not they thought it was an effective technique.
  • Ask the class and/or point out what characteristics of Miró and Surrealism they observe.
  • Discuss any intended or implied meaning of the painting.


Students should be assessed based on their understanding of Surrealism and Miró as evidenced by class discussions, research presentations, the creation of original artwork and the ability to explicate their own work, and their ability to critique their classmates’ artwork. A Project Rubric can be found within the Resource Carousel.

Recommended Resources

Be advised, some Surrealist artwork contains graphic and sexual images. Be sure to preview Web sites and art images to make sure they are suitable for the classroom. To save time it may helpful to assign some portions of the research for homework. After the Introduction section , be sure to share the Miró Project Rubric criteria with the class. Given the mature nature of this lesson, here are some ideas on how to adapt this lesson to younger students.

You may also wish to review additional resources on Miró. Other resources include some characteristics of Miró’s work may found here and here.

Key Vocabulary

  • Surrealism
  • Unconscious
  • Abstract
  • Biomorphic
  • Symbolism
  • Avant-garde

Extending the Learning

Students may compare and contrast the work of other Surrealist artists. Have students write a short report comparing the works of two Surrealist artists.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Arts

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 1: Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 2: Using knowledge of structures and functions

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 5: Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others

National Standards in Other Subjects
World History

World History Standard 40: Understands the search for peace and stability throughout the world in the 1920s and 1930s



Jill Gerlman

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