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Salvador Dali and his Persistence of Memory

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Art is the most prominent type of expression. It helps the artist express his thoughts, ideas or beliefs, which mirror his inner world. Even though the media used, style, theme, and the final picture vary depending on the époque, all artists carry the same idea of representing their emotions and feelings. Each artist shares a piece of his soul when creating a work of art. One of the outstanding examples is Salvador Dali.

Early years

A prominent artist from Figueres, Spain, who was a photographer, writer, scientist, film director, sculptor, politician, etc., but, what is more important he was an excellent surrealist painter. Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, born on May 11, 1904 had been making the Earth happy with his works for 85 years and died on January 23, 1989. His eccentric and extraordinary behavior, which he called ‘the critical paranoia’, was the source of his creativity (WebMuseum, 1997). According to The Art Story Foundation: “Salvador Dali is among the most versatile and prolific artists of the twentieth century.” (2012). Cubism and futurism as well as metaphysical painting have influenced the creativity of the painter until 1929 when Dali joined the Surrealists Dali was identified as an outstanding personality with many talents, who fascinated people with his sculpture, work for the theatre, book illustration, design of jewelry and clothes as well as films (Un Chien Andalou, Dali & Bunuel, 1929; Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock & Dali, 1945). Nonetheless, Dali’s works are of a great importance to the art history, they are considered controversial and inconsistent by many critics. The works of Salvador Dali are in the museum in his home town in Spain, in Figueres, some of them were given to the museums in Florida and St. Petersburg (WebMuseum, 1997).

The Madrid School and trip to Paris

In 1921 Dali enters the Madrid School of Fine Arts, where he experiments in impressionism and pointillism. During his trip to Paris, Dali discovers multidimensional futuristic style, and studies it, basing on psychoanalysis of subconscious inspired by the works of Giorgio de Chirico. In 1924 he gets expelled from the art academy. At his time, Dali starts practicing cubism under the influence of Pablo Picasso. In 1929, at the Galerie Gormans in Paris, Dali meets Robert Desnos, Paul Eluard, and André Breton, who persuade him to move to Paris (The Art Story Foundation, 2012). This period is crucial in Dali’s artistic life as he continues to study and paint  illustrative canvases relating to his theory of psychological paranoia, where he exerts “reflected sexualized fears of father figures and impotence, as well as symbols that referred to the anxiousness over the passing of time.” (The Art Story Foundation, 2012). Embracing Breton’s theory of automatism, Dali propagates skepticism about technology and obligates to be intuitive and self-reliant. In 1934 Dali starts to study fascist movement. For this reason, he is expelled from the surrealist group in Paris, due to a strong interest in Hitler and fascism movement in general. However, this event does  not affect Dali's artistic performance. In 1937, Dali moves to Italy to practice traditional art, although the themes of the canvases he paints are still odd. The period of 40s - 50s is marked by his interest in religious and supernatural themes, which require a lot of his time and the method of critical paranoia. In 1955, he returns back to Spain, where he paints until his death. Throughout his life, Salvador Dali is an extremely creative and extraordinary individual, he receives the most credit for his painting career in the period of surrealism (The Art Story Foundation, 2012).

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In his paintings, Dali raised three mainstream themes. First, in his youth, Dali was stunned by the Freudian theory of subconscious and dream. His fascination in the works of Sigmund Freud resulted in production of his most famous iconic and obvious images. Second, Dali continued to use psychoanalytical theories to express such ideas as flourishing and decay, life versus death, and eroticism drawing his ideas from his personal childhood and life in general. Third, impressed by Breton’s theory of automatism, Dali created the method of critical paranoia, which enhanced the unconscious to create art (The Art Story Foundation, 2012).

Surrealistic paintings

Salvador Dalí believed that “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” (Dali and Surrealism, 2009). WebMuseum writes: “His paintings employed a meticulous academic technique that was contradicted by the unreal `dream' space he depicted and by the strangely hallucinatory characters of his imagery.” (2007). Keeping in mind the psychoanalysis of Freud and having read The Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton, Dali created a series of surrealistic paintings (A National Gallery of Victoria Education Resource, 2009). Citing the words of Modern Art in New York, “irrational, fantastic, paradoxical, disquieting, baffling, alarming, hypnogogic, nonsensical and mad—but to the surrealist these adjectives are the highest praise”, (MOMA, “What Is Modern Painting?”), Dali’s paintings trouble one’s perception of the canvases on many levels.

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory (1931) is one of his works, which underlines the implementation of all three themes. The Persistence of Memory, one of the most famous and recognizable works of Salvador Dali, was written with oil (The Art Story Foundation, 2012). It depicts the time as iconic images of three melting clocks surrounded by ants placed in the Port Lligat symbolizing at the same time endlessness, irrelevance of time and natural process of decay, in which Dali held enormous excitement. The painter underlines the appeal of skepticism over glorifying nature of technology. The clocks are to symbolize the passing of time (Salvador Dali Museum, 2011). Depicting melting clocks, the painter tried to show how quickly time is passing. Although the painting is in 2-D, we can read the third dimension psychologically through the theme of irrelevance of time. Salvador Dali chooses to cover the themes of unnecessity of time during sleep. While he was painting this work, Salvador Dali was under the influence of Freudian psychoanalysis; therefore, he brings up his subconscious through such uncountable measures as dream, time and sleep. Usually Salvador Dali called his paintings “hand painted photographs”, as they mirrored the pictures and images from his subconscious (Salvador Dali Museum, 2011). On the canvas, he created an irrational world of his dreams.

He chose to express these themes in his painting for a very simple reason -  dreams took a very important place in Salvador Dali’s life. The painter would often take siestas several times a day. While this period of time, he would plunge in an unknown and undiscovered world of understanding the dream. He believed that during sleep one forgets about his body and submerges into subconscious level. Salvador Dali mixed sexual desires with “dreamlike style” in order to express thematically various works (Abouzaki, 2004). According to another theory, The Persistence of Time visually represents Einstein’s theory of relativity, underlining that nothing in the world is fixed, especially time. Dali was against technology and did not show much interest in portraying scientific motives up until World War II, when he discovered nuclear atomic bomb, and painted The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952), in which the painting was divided into particles (Salvador Dali Museum, 2011).

The painting The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali is an outstanding piece of art in many ways. First, this painting is the representational canvas of the surrealistic mainstream. The symbolical representations of such ideas as dream, decay, and time are philosophically included in autobiographical context of the painting. Salvador Dali delivers the theme through a unique, unusual way of illustrating melting clocks, which is the emphasizing sign of the surrealism. Second, The Persistence of Memory is the trump card of Salvador Dali as a painter. Being the most recognizable of his paintings, this one was also the first surrealistic painting shown to the American public. Third, the techniques used by Salvador Dali in his painting The Persistence of Memory are outstanding, thus, the painting is considered to be technically flawless work. Regardless contradictory thoughts about Salvador Dali painting and unflattering criticism about painting techniques, The Persistence of Memory deserves positive recognition for the thematic representation of surrealistic motives.

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