How Does Salvador Dali’s Perspective on Life Influence His Art?

Title: How does Salvador Dali’s perspective on life influence his art?


Perhaps one of the most prominent modern artists to this day, Salvador Dali still remains an enigma. And yet, one is drawn to his alternate universe, which seems to follow some rules of physics and perspective, whilst simultaneously being incomprehensible and disquieting. Here, we will focus on ‘how Salvador Dali’s (Dali) perspective on life has influenced his art’. This will be considered by exploring the life and artwork by the great surrealist and demonstrating how they intertwine. It is people like Dali who indicated to me the significance of the artists’ philosophy on their work – an aspect of art that is rarely revealed. The intent of this paper is to analyze how Dali’s perspective on life developed by concentrating on the impact Surrealism had on him and the impact he had on Surrealism. Furthermore, I will by focusing on his early life behaviour and upbringing leading to his art journey and experimentation. Finally, I will examine his life in adulthood with his wife Gala. I will display deep analysis on his artworks that I feel connects the most with each topic to be able to link his perspective on life to his art. Through examining these different aspects of his life we’ll be able to get a sense of what drove eccentric artists. The goal of his art was to cause confusion which would help to completely destroy confidence in the world of reality. It is noted that Dali painted his obsessions in order to remain sane as he stated “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs” evoking the idea of art to be his therapy. I am to take in concern the circumstances that Dali’s life brought, how he changed by still remained the same in his artistic style, always being recognized.


Whilst exploring Salvador Dali’s exhibition at Erarta Museum of contemporary art, I was able expand my understanding of Surrealism. Surrealism was a twentieth century literary, philosophical art movement that explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and revolutionary. Surrealism borrowed a number of themes and musings from French poets such as Charles Baudelaire, Comte de Lautreamont and Guillaume Apollinaire as well as the writings of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s investigation into the unconscious mind and its ability to dictate ordinary actions as well the potential destructive nature of it was a great interests to the Surrealist. Surrealism aimed to escape the constrains of the rational mind that had led to WW1 by producing objects and images with an erotic dimension. For example, though the explorations of the human figure had a long tradition of art, Surrealists went further, breaking taboos and shocking viewers in their depiction of mutilated, dismembered or distorted bodies. There are two broad types of Surrealism: oneiric (dream like imagery) and automatism (Freudians’ technique of unleashing the unconscious mind).

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Alongside Max Ernest, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro, Dali was initially one of the focal figures in Surrealism, as witnessed by a lecture that he gave at the London International Surrealists exhibition between 11th June and 4th July 1936. Dali was known for his wild art and a public personality to match, these two elements allowed his to rise above the rest of the Surrealists. He believed that the “difference between me and the Surrealists is that i am a surrealist”.  This is evident as he spent the entire day before the opening of his art exhibition wearing an old-fashioned deep-sea diving suit, whilst holding two dogs on leads in one hand, and a billiard cue in the other. This demonstrates how Surrealism was so significant and provoking to Dali that he also wanted to evoke Surrealism through his fashion. Dali said that the diving suit represented his existence at the bottom of the sea of his sub-consciousness. However, as was only revealed later, the glass bowl part of the suit was sound proofed, so Dali was in fact suffocating and gesticulating uncontrollably; although the audience took this as part of the act, the poet David Gascoyne had to dismantle the helmet with the billiard cue. These types of episodes as well as the global recognition of Dali led to the inevitable resentment within the Surrealist group.

In 1929 he entered the Parisian art scene, initially being welcomed by the Surrealists, who were founded by the French poet and writer, Andre Breton. Within Breton’s book “Surrealist Manifesto of 1924”, Breton coined the term and noted that Surrealism aims to merge the conscious and the unconscious experience; the realms of dreams, fantasy and reality, creating an “absolute reality, a surreality” (‘sur’ meaning ‘on top of’ in French, hence a reality on top of the current reality; a superimposition on the present. Breton stated that “pure psychic automatism is…the dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason and outside all moral or aesthetic concerns”. Breton expelled Dali from the Surrealists although the motivation behind this is still debated amongst art historians. Some uphold that as the rest of the Surrealists, although were exhibiting left-wing tendencies, they expected Dali not only to be part of the political debate, but also to publically denounce fascism.  Others argue that it was Dali’s insatiable appetite for money and fame that led to his expulsion from the group. This alludes to the idea that Dali’s perspective on life was only focused on rising up in fame, revealing a selfish and rather arrogant side to Dali. However, Breton had probably been jealous of Dali’s success in America, where they referred to Dali as the creator and father of Surrealism. One Surrealist painting that Dali did near this time was ‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus in 1937’ that I was able to witness at Tate Modern. This painting is Dali’s interpretation of the Greek Myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. He fell in love with it but discovered he was unable to embrace the watery image, he pinned away and the God’s immortalised him as a flower. Dali shows this metamorphosis by doubling a crouching figure by the Lake with a hand clutching an egg, from which the Narcissus flower sprouts. The play with ‘double images’ sprang from Dali’s fascination with hallucination and delusion. When his painting was first exhibited it was accompanied by a long poem by Dali. Together, the words and the image suggest a range of emotions triggered by the theme of metamorphosis, including anxiety, disgust and desire. Robert Descharnes noted that this painting meant a great deal to Dali, as it was his first Surrealist work to offer a consistent interpretation of an irrational subject. With this painting and the context Dali was in, there is a sense that this was a time in his life where he was developing surrealism views and seeing glimpses of what he wanted himself to be in the future which perhaps led him to feel a lot of pressure and anxiety which the painting connotes.

Early Life

The ‘Salvador Dali biography’ has given me an insight into Dali’s early life as it establishes that Salvador Dali was born on May 11th 1904, in Figueres in the Catalonian region of Spain. His father Salvador Dali y Cusi was a middle class lawyer and notary. He had a strict disciplinary approach to raising children contrary to his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferres who encouraged young Salvador in his art and early eccentricities. Dali was intelligent but prone to fits of anger against his parents and schoolmates. Consequently, the more dominant students and his father wouldn’t tolerate his outbursts and eccentricities, and punished him severely. Dali’s relationship with his father was heightened by competition for Felipa’s affection. Dali had a sister, Anna Marie who was three years younger and an older brother who died nine months before him at just 22 months old of gastroenteterites, also named Salvador. Later in life, Dali often connected the story that when he was five years old, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation. Dali recalled “(we) resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections”. He was “probably a first version of myself, but conceived too much in the absolute”. This upbringing evokes the idea that Dali was brought up with many perspectives on what is expected of him. Furthermore, being told that he is the reincarnation of his brother must have forced an identity on Dali to be just like his brother, this evidently must have been psychologically damaging for Dali. Hence we can see from an early age that Dali’s pressures to be his brother had a huge influence on his art as much of his later work would contain allusions to the dead child he believed was the best part of him.

Dali, along with Anna and his parents, often spent time at their summer home in the coastal village of Cadaques. At an early age, Dali was producing highly sophisticated drawings, and both of his parents strongly supported his artistic talent. It was here that his parents built him an art studio before he entered art school. Upon recognizing his immense talent, Dali’s parents sent him to drawing school at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres, Spain in 1912. That same year Dali’s mother, Felipa, died of breast cancer. Dali was sixteen years old at the time, and was devastated by the loss. His father then married Felipa’s sister, which did not attract Dali any closer to his father though he respected his aunt. Looking at the national gallery of Victoria education website, it was highlighted that Anna Maria was Dali’s only female model until he met his future wife. Anna is featured in numerous works including ‘Girl at the window 1925’, one of his most famous and reproduced painting. However, Dali became infuriated by Anna’s book ‘Salvador Dali as seen by his sister’ 1949 because he felt betrayed by her description of his childhood as normal and happy, a direct contradiction of the fantastical, bizarre memories he had recounted in his own biography ‘The Secret Life of Salvador Dali’ 1942, this led to a collapse of their relationship. Throughout his life, Dali found a source of inspiration from the summers spent in Cadaques. The frame depicted here can be seen from one of the windows of the house that the family had on the Es Llana beach. The houses reflected in the glass of the window can still be identified today as part of the Cadaques landscape. It is evident that this painting was done before Dali identified himself with surrealism because it captures a simple everyday moment such as looking out to sea and the technical skill demonstrated in Dali’s brushwork. We can see how Dali was already communicating his own language and combining perfect brushwork with his scenic composition. This painting alludes to the idea of Dali to have a peaceful and calm perspective on life contrary to his later Surrealist work where he demonstrates the horrors of the war.

Art School

The Salvador Dali biography is further noted to see that in Art school he was not a serious student preferring to daydream in class and stand out as the class eccentric, wearing odd clothing and long hair. After the first year at art school he discovered modern painting in Cadaques while vacationing with his family. The following year his father organized an exhibition of Dali’s charcoal drawings in the family home by 1919, the young artists had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres. During his time at art school he was influenced by several different artistic style including metaphysics (The Tate gallery defines metaphysics as an art movement typified by dream-like views of eerie arcaded squares with unexpected juxtapositions of objects) and cubism (The Tate gallery describes Cubism as a new revolutionary approach to representing reality, often appearing fragmented and abstracted). Furthermore, Dali explored classical painters such as Raphael, Bronzino and Diego Velaquez (from whom he adopted his signature moustache). From 1912 to 1919, we can see that Dali developed his art swiftly; already having is first public exhibition. Being at art school allowed Dali’s environment to be filled with influential artists and new techniques which demonstrates how the Art school was the place where he was able to find his own art style. The 2008 Spanish-British drama movie ‘Little Ashes’ illustrates his time at Art School in the midst of repression and political unrest of Pre Spanish Civil War. The young actor playing Dali was able to demonstrate the innocence and vulnerability of Dali and his youthful mistakes and experimentation at Art school. It also gives an insight into the relationship between Dali and poet Federico Garcia Lorca that has been the subject of speculation among historians and biographers.

In between 1926 and 1929, Dali made several trips to Paris, where he met with influential painters and intellectuals such as Pablo Picasso, whom he admired. During his time, Dali painted a number of works that displayed Picasso’s influence. He also met Joan Miro, the Spanish painter and sculpture, who along with poet Paul Eluard and painter Rene Magritte, introduced Dali to Surrealism. By this time Dali was working with styles of Impressionism (main impressionists subjects were landscapes and scenes of everyday life), Futurism (art movement that tried to capture dynamism and energy of the modern world) and Cubism. Dali’s paintings became associated with three general themes: man’s universe and sensations, sexual symbolism and ideographic imagery. All of this experimentation led to Dali’s first Surrealistic period in 1929. These oil paintings were small collages of his dream images. His work employed a particular classical technique, influenced by Renaissance artists that contradicted the “real dream” space that he created with strange hallucinatory characters. The Dada philosophy was an art movement formed after the First World War in Zurich as a negative reaction to the horrors of the war. The poetry, art and performance produced by Dada artists are often mocking and nonsensical to nature which influenced Dali’s art throughout his life. Even before this period, the world of psychology and art were interweaving and Dali was a devoted reader of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. The Lumen Learning website displays that Freud’s psychoanalytical theories of personality development argue that personality is formed by conflicts among three fundamental structures of the human mind: the id, ego and superego. The id, the most primitive of the three structures, is concerned with instant gratification of basic physical needs and urges. It operates entirely unconsciously. The superego is concerned with social rules and morals- similar to what many people call their “moral compass” and “conscious”. It develops as a child learns what their culture considers right and wrong. In contrast to the instinctual id, and moral superego, the ego is the rational pragmatic part of our personality. It’s what Freud considered to be the “self”, and its job is to balance the demands of the id and the superego in the practical context of reality. We can see how this influenced Dali as ‘The Salvador Dali biography’ shows that his major contribution to the Surrealist movement was what he called the “paranoic critical method”, a mental exercise of assessing the subconscious to enhance artistic creativity. Dali would use this method to create a reality from his dreams and subconscious thoughts, thus mentally changing reality to what he wanted it to be and not necessarily what it was. For Dali, it became a way of life. One of Dali’s most famous paintings is ‘The Persistence of Memory’, The Tate gallery described it as a simple figure: a limp watch draped over the branch of a dead tree. ‘Dalinean’ time is not rigid it is one with space… fluid. The unexpected softness of the watch also represents the psychological fact that the speed of time, while precise in scientific use, is widely variable in human perception. The melting clock represents the omnipresence of time and it’s dominion over humans, as well as the inevitability of time moving in one direction. It can also suggest that the limp watch no longer ‘keeps’ time; it does not measure its passage. Thus, the speed of our time depends only on us but still reigns highest over both art and reality.

Dali’s life and Gala

By examining the national gallery of Victoria education website further, it is distinguished that in the Spring of 1929, Dali began displaying concerning traits associated with mental illness. He suffered from uncontrollable fits of hysterical laughter and indulged in attention seeking activities, such as painting his armpits blue, rubbing his body with goat dung and fish glue which concerned those close to him. Dali was infamous for his love of money and his focus on being as commercial as possible, the Surrealist called him ‘Avida Dollars’ which is both an anagram of Salvador Dali and a phonetic rendering of the French ‘avida dollars’ translated ‘eager for dollars’. It was in this context that Dali first encountered Gala, a charismatic Russian immigrant who is said to have captivated and inspired many of the Surrealists. Returning to the information from the Erarta museum it stated that upon marrying Gala in 1934 in a civil ceremony, Dali found his rational counterbalance. However, Dali’s father, who was a very authoritarian person, did not approve of this relationship that he changed his will immediately in which Dali received an absolute minimum required by the law. This demonstrates how Dali’s father continued to be obstructive causing Dali to fear him all his life. Gala had a decisive influence on his future career, which she guided to international success, as she took on diverse and multiple roles in their partnership, as his model, wife and business manager. The artists noted that “she was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife”. Dali started to sign his paintings with his and her name as “it is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures”. Nevertheless, even with the stabilizing influence of his new wife, Dali was still very divisive and causing arguments within the art world and specifically within the Surrealists group.

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The Spanish War started in 1936 ensuring that Dali and Gala had to stay in Paris; although once WW11 broke out three years later they moved to the USA. As America was becoming a prominent centre for fashion and the arts, Dali saw his reputation and notoriety grow, which peaked in his 1942 autobiography ‘The Secret Life of Salvador Dali’ which was a public success. Dali was becoming very commercially successful, by having solo and group exhibitions across the country. He began moving outside of the medium of oil on canvas and began the exploration of design jeweller, film, fashion, writing, printmaking and sculpture. Limited to what he saw as the boundaries of two-dimensional canvas, Dali turned to sculpture in order to reveal his surrealist visions during the war. Moreover, 1943 marked an important year for the artists because he met Eleanor and Reynolds Morse who became major supporters of Dali. The Morses gathered such an extensive collection of Dali’s work that they opened the Dali Museum in Florida, 1971. After such an intense couple of years in the USA concentrating on his career, Dali and Gala returned to Europe in 1948, the couple decided to move to Dali’s home town of Figueres. Whilst Dali settled in a large place that eventually became the Dali theatre and museum, he built a separate castle just for Gala, it was rumoured that the artist could only visit Gala with her written permission which gives us a sense of her controlling nature. Upon her death in 1982 Dali was so devastated that he isolated himself in her old room at the castle for two years. Gala was certainly the main factor in Dali’s life, even though she was maybe a dictator over both his career and life, that it was a great shock and unimaginable not having her in his life. In 1984, a fire broke out in Dali’s bedroom causing first and second degree burns to his right leg although it is debated whether this was an accident or a suicide attempt. However, Dali never fully recovered from the accident and was in a wheelchair for the next five years till his death in 1989. This topic of Dali and Gala displays how Dali believed Gala to be his everything and therefore inspired everything Dali had created. The last ten years of Dali’s creation had merely been the improvement of his science and holographic. Designing perfume bottles was another of Dali’s talents when designing the first ‘Salvador Dali’ fragrance, he designed the bottle inspired by one of his paintings ‘Apparition of the Face of Aphrodite of Knidos’ by taking the nose and lips of Aphrodite and perhaps with it demonstrated the central position in his life and art, Gala. He believed that “of the five senses, the sense of smell in incontestably the one that best conveys a sense of immortality”. This hints of Dali’s obsession with death; he depicted his fear of death multiple times. One could argue that Dali died several times: he had died a few years before he was born through his brother. He died as a young artist when he broke from the Surrealist movement, who’s members, like Breton, began to refer to Dali in the past tense as if he had died. He died when Gala died in 1982. Ultimately, he died of heart failure in 1989. This almost summarises the stages of his life that were life changing and turned his perspective of life upside down.

Examining the Dali paintings website, it is evident that the ‘Swallow’s Tail’ was Dali’s last painting. It was completed in May 1983 in Gala’s castle, as the final part of the series based on the mathematical catastrophe theory of Rene Thom. Dali described Thom’s theory of catastrophe as “the most beautiful aesthetic theory in the world”. Thom’s theory suggests that in four-dimensional space there are seven equilibrium surfaces: swallowtail, butterfly, fold, cusp, elliptic umbilic, parabolic umbilic and hyperbolic umbilic. Dali incorporated each of these surfaces into his painting alongside the gentle and elegant curves of the cello, set against a calm blue background, the painting is more than just a series of shapes and curves; it is a precise representation of Dali’s understanding and interest of a mathematical theory that he undertook successfully by representing this relatively indefinable four-dimensional theory on a two-dimensional canvas. The shape of the Swallow’s tail at the bottom of the painting is copied from Thom’s graph of the same name and the f-holes of the cello in the painting describe the integral symbol in the calculus. Similarly, the S curve represents Thom’s second catastrophe graph. Given the considerable differences in thinking between artist and mathematician the relationship between Dali and Thom is extraordinary. His last painting demonstrates that even at 79 years old, his artistic abilities showed no sign of fading. The fact that Thom used his theory to study and make predictions of processes involving sudden changes could perhaps evoke the idea that Dali wanted to welcome sudden changes in society and not to be afraid of them.


Throughout this essay I have been answering the question: ‘How does Salvador Dali’s perspective on life influence his art?’ I have hopefully depicted that to analyze his paintings one must seek the answers and inspiration in his life. Dali mixed all of his beliefs, theories and obsessions in his art which we have seen shift as his perspective on life has. It is evident that Dali always had the need to change and improve himself due to the lack of self-confidence and his appetite for publication and adoration. There are points in Dali’s life where fame controlled his perspective on life and what his priorities were as Surrealism and his love for Spain were replaced by America and his love for fame and fortune. I think Dali demonstrates how your perspectives in life are always altering but its how we move forward from those mistakes and develop them into something beautiful and inspiring that I think Dali’s art is. Ultimately, we can see how in Dali’s hectic life he achieved his desires of admiration, attention and perpetuity in his artwork. Dali, with both his art and life, left an impact on the art world; intriguing the mind of the viewer in such ways that one could not be apathetic towards it. During this project, I have gained the knowledge of how much Dali is still living in the art world today and I hope people will continue to explore the life and art of Salvador Dali.

References, 25.11.2011.

Salvador Dali: sculptures (2018) [Exhibition]. Erarta Museum, St Petersburg. 25/05/18-23/09/18

Dali at the Modern (2018) [exhibition]. Tate Modern, London. 01/06/18-09/09/18

Authors: editors. 2014 published date, Salvador Dali biography,

Analysis of Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’

The Persistence of Memory is a surreal landscape created in 1931 by the famous Spanish artist, Salvador Dali. This oil painting measures 9 1/2 x 13 inches, or 24.1 x 33 cm and is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). It has been displayed in galleries worldwide and is a symbol of Dali’s work.

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The Persistence of Memory contains a light blue horizon, which slowly fades downward from blue to yellow across the top quarter of the painting. Under the skyline sits a body of water, or what looks to be a large lake or a reflecting pool. The body of water traces the skyline until it interacts with neighboring mountains to the right. In front of the mountains there is lone pebble.
On the left close to the water, Dali places a reflective, blue, elevated, rectangular platform with dark brown trimming around the edges. Placed in front of this platform, there is another single pebble. A lifeless tree with a hollow top, is in front of it, missing all of its leaves and branches but one. The single branch holds a silver pocket watch which appears to be melting on the end of the branch showing the numbers three through nine. Only one hand of the watch is shown, pointing at the 6. The tree is located on top of a light brown square object that looks desk-like. The brown object takes over the bottom left corner of the painting, and even goes off the canvas. On this object there are two more pocket watches residing. One of them is gold and melted, hanging half way off the light brown cube. The hands of the gold watch are stopped at five of seven and there is a fly on the face near the 1 o’clock mark. The fly is also casting a very small shadow, which is shaped more like a human. The other pocket watch is bronze and shut. The exterior of the pocket watch is covered with a swarm of black ants. Unlike the other clocks, this is shut, and the only one that is not warped or melted of the four.
The ground in The Persistence of Memory is a dark brown that almost turns black in certain areas. On it lies a white figure on its right side with another silver-colored melting clock on its back. The white figure is human-like, with over emphasized large eyelashes. It has a what looks to be a trade mark Salvador Dali moustache and lips where eyebrows would be on a human face. Its nose is flared and has another small brown object coming out of the right nostril. The white figure has no limbs or other human-like characteristics. The rest of the scenery around the white figure is dark and barren.
The Persistence of Memory uses the basic elements of art including a plethora of lines, values, shapes, form, colors, and texture (Glatstein). The lines that Dali uses in the painting vary on the shape which he is working with. Most of the painting contains lines that are relatively thin and similar in width, with the exception of the mountains, and the eyelashes of the white figure. The lines on the mountains are noticeable, and give them a rough realistic approach. On the white figure Dali uses different lengths and widths to create individuality in each lash. He also makes everything detailed down to the very last ant on the bronze watch. The lines that make up the watches are so detailed that they even show each number on the faces. The use of lines also improve the realistic look of the reflection of the mountains in the water. The lines on the platform and brown object are straight and symmetric. He does not leave many visible sketch marks in this painting, so it is not clear or easy to distinguish his lines from shading. The lines that he does show usually complement the dark shadows of his surrealist landscape.
The values and shading in this painting are very drawn out and detailed. The shadows in Dali’s Persistence of Memory are the heart and soul of the piece, creating a universe that has never been seen before. Thick values highlight details and color, giving a three dimensional illusion to this piece. On the tree, the values are implied to create the illusion of bark, while the limp clock it is holding on its branch uses value to create a tarnished and three dimensional effect. The brown object also uses shading to get this effect. The watches on the brown cube have detailed shading on and around them, and use color to shade and give a shiny effect. The melting one uses a great deal of color on the face, while the watch with the ants draws attention to the insects covering it. The ground is primarily solid brown, with vivid black shadows overpowering the landscape. This stresses the amount of sunlight that is shown in the landscape, reflecting off of other interacting objects. The mountains use a combination of light and darkness mixed with color rather than only black to create this style. Some of the ridges on the mountains are shaded with black, along with other parts of the painting such as the white figure and the brown cube where the two pocket watches are placed. The ants are all black, and have very little shading, while the fly on the other watch only has a blue shadow of a human figure. The white figure has shading throughout its entire body. There is heavy shading on his head, nose eyelashes, and where its body touches the ground.
This painting contains a variety of shapes and forms that add to the uniqueness of its style. There are noticeable figures and shapes, and unidentifiable ones throughout the painting. The blue platform in the far corner is a solid three dimensional rectangle, as is the large brown cube in front of it. In these objects the lines are straight and solid, and although the object is not identifiable, the geometric shapes are (Jirousek). The way that the clocks are melting adds a sense of movement and flimsiness. The mountains are recognizable shapes, along with the body of water surrounding them. The tree is easily identified, as are ants and the fly. The white figure is almost cubist, missing parts and anatomical structures, somewhat resembling a Picasso or Braque painting. It still contains human qualities, like the eyelashes and the nose but lacks a solid form. Many of the objects in this painting interact with others, either resting on or touching. The clocks are an example of this because they almost mold to whatever object they come into contact with. This painting is three dimensional, geometric, and abstract, and does not stick to all traditional shapes or forms (Jirousek).
The color scheme along with the shading work to bring the painting to life. The colors are not vivid or bright, but more saturated and dark. Dali uses shadow and color together to create a different experience. The colors in The Persistence of Memory are primarily warm including a lot of yellow, gold, black, and brown (Warm Colors). The browns on the cube and the scenery range from light to dark. The mountains are a shade of yellow, along with a lot of what the sun touches in the painting. The watches are gold, silver, and bronze and have a shine to them because of the color and shading. There are also cool colors in this piece including blue, white, and silver (The Meaning of Color). The faces of the clocks, tree, the fly’s shadow, the sky and water are all a blue tint, working with the warm colors to balance the painting.
The texture of the painting mainly focuses on senses such as sight and touch. From smooth surfaces to rough and jagged objects, Dali intensifies the visual experience to create an imaginary sense of touch. The blue platform appears to have a smooth reflective surface, with a rough wooden underside. The tree in front of it has a course exterior with deteriorating bark. The clock on it’s weak branch has a flexible but noodle like appearance to it. The large brown object with the other two clocks on top looks smooth and almost wooden. The pocket watch with the ants on it looks smooth and shiny, but still covered in small black ants. The gold pocket watch looks melted and squishy. The hands on the watch appear to go in every direction and never stay in sync with each other. The mountains in the background look narrow, ancient, dangerous, with noticeable signs of erosion. The water looks still, clear, reflecting the mountains in the landscape. The two pebbles that are separated on the far left and right in the background have a smooth exterior. The white figure’s skin is smooth as well, although the shading gives the impression that the figure’s body is wavy and ameba-like. Its moustache and lips where his eyebrow appear to be drawn on and unnatural. The large eyelashes have a rough and soft texture, as does his nose and the rest of his face.
Salvador Dali’s painting The Persistence of Memory, uses a variety of artistic methods and principles (Glatstein). The emphasis of the piece are the four melting clocks scattered throughout the painting. Some may argue that it’s his mysterious white figure that draws more attention to the work. The painting carries a strong sense of movement as well. The melting clocks create an optical illusion, giving the viewer the impression that they are actually dripping metal. The ant colony on the bronze watch also creates a sense of motion as they scatter on its surface. The cracked and crumbling mountains add to this movement too, while the water below and the white figure stay completely still. The use of shadows in the picture builds a strong contrast between sources of light and darkness. The lighting projects emphasis on several objects and builds three dimensions using shadow and color. The contrast also brings the three dimensional illusion to life, giving the painting its distinguishing features. The painting lacks a definite pattern or motif, and the only reoccurring object is the pocket watches. It’s scenery changes throughout the piece from geometric objects, to empty space, to mountains. In this piece the vanishing point appears to make sense and the water touching the skyline gives an illusion of distance. The proportion of the other objects in the painting however, do not follow traditional standards. The pocket watches seem ridiculously large and warped in every direction, while the tree holding the silver watch up is similar in size to the pocket watch. The overall unity of Dali’s painting brings mixed emotions. The interpretation of the piece always has a critics bias either directly or indirectly. The Persistence of Memory seems to have a darker impact on people because of its style and subject matter. It is not seen as a cheerful or happy painting, but more eerie and disturbing. According to the Salvador Dali Museum this painting is known to cause fear and anxiety of the unknown surroundings (Clocking in With Salvador Dali).
Dali’s creation of this painting was not drug induced, but from melting cheese and bizarre dreams (Rochfort). The message Dali is trying to spread is that life is fast paced and full of choices which sometimes produce unfavorable outcomes, but we move on. The clocks are only stepping stones into the real meaning behind the painting. The silver watch on the tree is symbolic of a time which has recently passed (Being second closest to the white figure). The gold watch symbolizes the best years of life slowly escaping. The closed bronze watch with the ants could symbolize a time which the artist wanted to move on and forget. The one on top of the white figure symbolizes the place that he is at now and currently trying to live through. The pebbles painted on opposite sides of the canvas symbolize separation between a lover. The cracks in the mountains are obstacles that one faces before they can reach a stable point in life and find happiness. The raised blue platform in the back symbolizes the path to a higher quality of life, while the dead tree shows mortality and that nothing lives forever. The fly’s shadow in the form of a person could be another symbol of Dali’s love escaping, or that he wishes to escape reality. Many sources state that Salvador Dali had fallen in Gala, his only love and muse included in her many pieces (Salvador Dali-A Soft Self-Portrait).
This piece defines surrealism, breaking many of the norms previously adopted by artists and critics. The painting itself reflects a lot on Salvador Dali, and the way which he viewed life. His artistic style is incredible, and his “dream photographs” (Clocking in with Salvador Dali) are mind blowing. His use of colors and lighting creates a three dimensional experience that was never seen before. The lifelike qualities and absurd creatures that inhabit the piece make it so good, and separate it from the rest. It has even been noted that the white figure seen in the painting is a self portrait of Dali, (looking at the moustache above it’s eyelashes) (Clocking in with Salvador Dali).
The clocks themselves make The Persistence of Memory an iconic piece and have been emulated and parodied in popular culture as well. It surpasses much of the “Modern Art” of its time, involving more talent than just throwing paint buckets at a canvas. I was able to see this painting in person at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2005 when the Dali Exhibit was on display.