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Art and Design, Salvador Dali

The cultural legacy of Salvador Dali continues to be discussed from a variety of different perspectives even today. However, there can be absolutely no doubt as to the highest objective value of his artistic works, which explains why Dali’s paintings are being sold at the auctions for millions of dollars apiece. The reason for this is simple – apparently, Dali’s works do not only appeal to people’s sense of aesthetics, but they also allow viewers to realize the essence of their own subconscious anxieties. In this paper, we will aim at substantiating our thesis by establishing strong links between Dali’s eccentric lifestyle and his aesthetic ideas and by providing readers with insight into the conceptual meaning of the artist’s most famous works.

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Salvador Dali was born on May 11, 1904, in the Spanish town of Figueres. From the time of his early years, Dali had exhibited a particular fascination with artistic pursuits, which eventually convinced his parents to allow him to study art at Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. However, Dali’s dandyish lifestyle and his refusal to respect academic authorities have resulted in his expulsion from the Academy in 1926, which initiated the deterioration of the relationship between Dali and his father. In 1929, Dali went to Paris, where he managed to instantly establish himself as one of the most prominent members of the French Surrealist artistic community. While in France, Dali experimented with filmmaking, sculpturing, and scuba diving. Nevertheless, it is namely drawing Surrealist paintings, during this period of his life, which prompted critics to begin referring to Dali as being nothing less of an artistic genius. While in Paris, Dali had also met Russian émigré Gala Diakonova, who will later become his wife and lifetime companion. In 1940, Dali went to New York, while already enjoying the fame of celebrity. However, it is namely during his time in America that Dali had achieved worldwide recognition as an eccentric genius and as one of the world’s leading intellectuals. Upon Dali’s return to Spain in 1949, the number of his surrealist paintings accounted for hundreds, but he continued on with producing more and more masterpieces, up until the time of his death in 1982. Nowadays, Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figueres, which features close to five hundred artist’s different works, is considered as one of Spain’s most famous cultural landmarks.

It is quite impossible to discuss Dali’s contribution to Western art without understanding the essence of the Surrealist art movement, which was gaining particular popularity among European intellectuals, in the first part of the 20th century. This movement is best defined as such that is being concerned with artists’ strive to discover the mechanics of people’s subconsciousness, by turning it into the subject of one’s artistic inspiration. In his article “Surrealism”, Jarrett Leplin provides us with a better understanding as to how Surrealists perceive surrounding reality: “Surrealism makes no commitment as to the actual deep structure of the world. It allows that the world has a deep structure, but declines to represent it” (Leplin 1987, p. 520). When we take a closer look at Dali’s most famous works, such as The Persistence of Memory, the validity of this suggestion becomes obvious.

This particular Dali painting depicts three pocket watches that appear to be melting, with a deep bluish horizon serving as the painting’s background (the presence of far away prospective within paintings is one of most memorable trademarks of Dali’s artistic style). Upon being exposed to this work for the first time, Dali’s wife Gala became impressed to such an extent that she had told her husband that the scene portrayed in The Persistence of Memory would forever remain engraved in her mind, due to the fact that, even though the sight of “soft” watches does not make much of a logical sense, it nevertheless appeals to spectators’ subconscious anxieties. It is only when we resort to the theory of psychoanalysis that the phenomenological subtleties of The Persistence of Memory become apparent – throughout their lives, people are being encouraged to think of the flow of time as an objective category, which is being fixed in the three-dimensional continuum. However, since they subconsciously associate the flow of time with the eventual prospect of dying, people’s deep-seated anxieties, in regards to timely continuity, derive out of their irrational strive to resist such flow and even to reverse it backward.

Thus, The Persistence of Memory should be discussed as an artistic sublimation of people’s subconscious desire to become masters of their own destiny by “bending” time according to their wishes – “soft” watches in this Dali’s work subtly imply the relativistic subtleties of time. Therefore, it will not be an exaggeration, on our part, to suggest that The Persistence of Memory is nothing but an artistic representation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which refers to time as something that can be manipulated with in the same way we manipulate with physical matter. While referring to this Dali’s famous painting in his book “Crucified Mind: Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain”, Robert Havard states: “Dalí’s genius lies in having eliminated the appearances of the right angle, the logic, the aestheticism that lock reality into cages and returning to it the organic, malleable, limp forms on which a true network of correspondences can be established” (Havard 2001, p. 84). We can only agree with such suggestion – in The Persistence of Memory, Dali was able to provide viewers with the glimpse into “alternative reality”. And the reason he was able to do it, is because, throughout his life, Dali remained being affected by such a reality in his own unique way. In its turn, this explains the artist’s existential eccentricity, which became an integral part of his individuality.

Throughout most of his life, Dali never ceased to be referred to as the “madman” by agents of mediocrity, who were never able to appreciate the full extent of the artist’s sheer genius, simply because he had a taste for indulging in unconventional behavior. For example, during the course of his 1943 artistic exhibition’s opening ceremony in New York, Dali appeared wearing full diver’s gear, while explaining such his choice for attire by its intention to “probe deep into people’s minds”. This had instantly caused the self-appointed guardians of public morality in America to dismiss Dali as someone who needed to be put into a mental asylum. Yet, it would never occur to Bible-thumping moralists that they themselves could have benefited from undergoing psychiatric treatment, due to their serious belief in Biblical nonsense, such as talking donkeys, the sun standing still in the sky, and the immaculate conception.

In his book “Healing the Split: Integrating Spirit into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill”, John Nelson makes a perfectly good point when stating: “The eccentric artist Salvador Dali was thought to be schizophrenic by some who use that word loosely. It is true that Dali’s erratic mind did not run parallel to conventional lines of thought. Timepieces melting over tree limbs, grotesquely mismatched body parts, massive objects impossibly suspended in air—all makeup Dali’s preposterous worldview. Yet, it is Dali and not his critics, who were able to leave a mark in history” (Nelson 1994, p. 299). What is the difference between madmen and geniuses? It is the fact that madmen undergo treatment in psychiatric institutions; while geniuses contribute to the pace of cultural and scientific progress, even though that the significance of their activities is being rarely understood by contemporaries. Moreover, geniuses actually provide people with insight into things to come.

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Nowadays, there is good reason to think that even twenty years from now, humanity will undergo a cardinal transformation, in the biologically-technological sense of this word, due to exponential progress in the field of informational and genetic technologies, which even today allow the fusion of human biology with artificial intelligence – thus, creating preconditions for the emergence of entirely new species of demi-gods. In his article “Transhumanism”, Francis Fukuyama points out at inevitability of the next revolutionary jump, within the context of Homo Sapiens’ never-ending evolutional development, which is very likely to take place within our lifespan: “Is the fundamental tenet of transhumanism that we will someday use biotechnology to make ourselves stronger, smarter, less prone to violence, and longer-lived-really so outlandish? The new procedures and technologies emerging from research laboratories and hospitals – whether mood-altering drugs, substances to boost muscle mass or selectively erase memory, prenatal genetic screening, or gene therapy – can as easily be used to “enhance” human species” (Fukuyama 2004, p. 42). One does not have to be particularly smart to realize that, once the selected populations will attain a status of post-humans (semi-gods), they will automatically cease treating the representatives of “conventional” humanity as equals. As Friedrich Nietzsche had put it in his famous work “Thus Spake Zarathustra”: “What is the ape to men? A laughing stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall the man be to the Superman – a laughing stock or a painful embarrassment” (Nietzsche 1885, p. 75). Now, let us take a look at Dali’s other famous masterpiece Birth of a New Man. In this painting, which many simple-minded people find disturbing; Dali depicted the process of a man being born out of a “world egg” while tearing it apart. It appears that the Birth of a New Man should actually be discussed in terms of an artistic prophesy – apparently, Dali was able to foresee the time when the emergence of the race of semi-gods would shake political, religious, and cultural foundations, upon which Western civilization is currently based. This is why the drop of blood, which comes out of torn “world egg”, is being featured in this painting with such prominence – it symbolizes bloody calamities, strongly associated with revolutionary socio-political changes that had taken place throughout history and also with the one that is nearing us, as we speak.

It is quite impossible to tell whether the creation of Birth of a New Man, on Dali’s part, came as a result of the artist had experienced a mystic premonition or whether this particular work has been inspired by his rationalistic considerations. What is important is that it accurately depicts what humanity is about to experience, during the course of the next 20-50 years – the destruction of an old world and creation of a new world, when post-humans will be able to get a firm hold of their own destinies, without relying on God’s good graces. It is needless to mention, of course, that this event will put people that had ceased evolving intellectually and biologically (religious fanatics, moralists, members of primitive races) in an awkward situation because they will realize themselves being nothing but the dead-end of evolution. This is the reason why, whereas intellectually advanced individuals find themselves being fascinated with this Dali’s particular painting, conservatively minded agents of mediocrity are being strongly repulsed by it.

Thus, our continuous referrals to Dali as genius are absolutely substantiated. Apparently, he had a clear vision of a future, whatever grotesque it might appear to people who are incapable of broadening their intellectual horizons. In its turn, this explains why, throughout his career, Dali had always tried to distance himself from the Communist agenda, unlike most Surrealists of his time. Apparently, Dali was well aware of the unscientific essence of the idea of egalitarianism, upon which both: Christian and Communist doctrines are based.

Despite what it is now being commonly believed, Dali’s adoption of Catholicism, during the course of his advanced years, had nothing to do with the essence of his search for divinity, just as the fact that he used to describe himself as Anarchic-Monarchist had nothing to do with what he believed to be the truth, in the political sense of this word. In her article “Masson’s Gradiva: The Metamorphosis of a Surrealist Myth”, Whitney Chadwick reveals the true subtleties of Dali’s “religiosity”: “Dali’s symbolic iconography is, however, limited by the fact that it never transcends its personal origins. It is ultimately restricted to a limited and repetitive set of symbols the meaning of which is nonetheless consistent within the body of his work and is being altogether deprived of Christian dogmatism” (Chadwick 1970, p. 420). Up until the very last years of his life, Dali continued to stimulate his contemporaries’ brain cells, by exposing them to combinations of seemingly irreconcilable notions (Anarchic-Monarchism, Nuclear-Catholicism, etc.), thus proving himself being a true European intellectual.

There are many indications as to the fact that Dali’s “madness” was nothing but intentionally adopted posture – he had simply refused to have his intellectual capabilities being bounded by outdated norms of ethical behavior or by limitations expressional appropriateness, which would have put Dali at odds with the hawks of political correctness if he was still alive today. It goes without saying that artist’s appearance and his act were somewhat atypical, but it is people who look particularly serious and conventional, while expounding on the subject of morality, one’s duty to protect its country’s interests by being turned into cannon meat at the front line, or about how it is utterly “sinful” to use condoms while having sex, who can be thought of as a truly crazy because it is due to their stance in life that the occurrence of such things as genocide becomes possible.

Along with Sigmund Freud, Dali had revealed that the realm of subconsciousness continuously affects our seemingly rational actions and that it is only through understanding subconsciousness’ mechanics that we can grasp the true motivations behind our existential strives. Therefore, it will not be an exaggeration, on our part, to refer to Salvador Dali as one of the most prominent cultural and political figures of the 20th century, as his contribution to the progress of Western aesthetical and philosophical thought simply cannot be adequately measured, due to its sheer enormousness.


  1. Fukuyama, F 2004. Transhumanism. Foreign Policy, no. 144, vol. 55, pp. 42-43.
  2. Havard, R 2001. Crucified Mind: Rafael Alberti and the Surrealist Ethos in Spain. Rochester, Boydell & Brewer Ltd.
  3. Leplin, J 1987. Surrealism. Mind (New Series), vol. 96, no. 384, pp. 519-524.
  4. Nelson, J 1994. Healing the Split: Integrating Spirit into Our Understanding of the Mentally Ill. SUNY Series in the Philosophy of Psychology, NY, Albany State University of New York Press.
  5. Nietzsche, F 2003 (1885). Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None. NY, Algora Publishing.
  6. Whitney, C 1970. Masson’s Gradiva: The Metamorphosis of a Surrealist Myth. The Art Bulletin, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 415-422.

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