Most people use the term "surreal" to express something that feels remarkably out of the ordinary, and that exact feeling was the intent of the Surrealists artists who began to work during the 1920s.
The movement began in France around 1924, with the work of Andre Breton; it quickly became popular with American artists after the 1925 exhibition in Paris. By the 1930s there were many artists working in this peculiar style.
Surrealism is defined by dream and fantasy visions and images, and relies on unexpected juxtapositions and comical insertions of seemingly meaningless items. As it evolved and expanded it came to be seen as an exposition of psychological truth; by frequently removing the meaning or significance of ordinary objects, Surrealist painting could create meaning without organization.
For example, the famous painting by Salvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory", has deflated clocks scattered around a barren landscape, and many viewers automatically empathize with the scene though they are unable to define or identify many items in the image.
Other artists associated with the movement in addition to Dali, include Man Ray, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundeberg, Arshile Gorky, Philip Evergood, Jackson Pollock, Bradley Tomlin, Peter Blume, William Baziotes, Enrico Donati, and Mark Rothko.