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Salvador Dali: Persistence of Memory

Updated on April 29, 2012
Salvador Dali
Salvador Dali

An excentric of the 20th century

Salvador Dali is known as one of the most excentric artists in the 20th century. Some would say he was insane. Are they right? This article will dive into this question. And the artwork Persistence of Memory may be an important key to find the answer!

Soft Construction With Beans: Premonition of Civil War
Soft Construction With Beans: Premonition of Civil War

Salvador Dali: Facts

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali Domènech was born on May 11th 1904 in Figueras, Spain, being named after his brother who died before his birth. His nickname was "Avida Dollars", meaning "eager for dollars"!

1922 Dali goes to Madrid to study at San Franscisco School of Fine Arts. He starts experimenting with cubism and dadaism, already an excentric. At this time he meets poet Garcia Lorca as well as filmmaker Louis Buñuel.

!926 - after being expelled from the San Fransicso School ( for criticizing the professors! ) - he visits Paris where he meets with Miró and Picasso.

1929 he creates the famous and weird short film "Un chien Andalou", in collaboration with Buñuel.

Besides being a painter he was also a sculptor, filmmaker and writer.

1934 he was kicked out of the Official Surrealist Society. The reason was that he refused to denounce fascism, considering himself as an apolitical artist. In return this is also the year he marry Gala in a civil ceremony. The marriage is several years later ( 1958 ) confirmed in a religious Catholic ceremony.

Two years later - in 1936 - he gave lectures in London, wearing a diving suit! This is also the year Dali creates "Autumn Cannibalism" and "Soft Construction With Beans"

Christ of Saint John on the Cross
Christ of Saint John on the Cross

1938 - also in London - he meets Sigmund Freud and draws several portraits of him.

When World War ÍI starts Dali moves to the United States and stays there for 8 years. During this period he writes his autobiography, "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali".

During the 50's Dali produces several of his masterpieces, including Christ of Saint john on the Cross, The Last Supper and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.

In 1964 Dali is awarded The Grand Cross of Isabella The Catholic. Later, in 1982, King Juan Carolos honours him with the title "Marquis of Pubol". This is also the year His beloved Gala dies, and Dali loses his will to live. His last painting, The Swallow's Tail is created the following year.

1989 Dali dies of a heart failure, 84 years old. He is buried in his hometown Figueres, leaving his works and fortune to the Spanish state.

The Last Supper
The Last Supper
The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
The Swallow's Tail
The Swallow's Tail

Genius or insane?

As already mentioned, Salvador Dali was an excentric personage - even that excentric that the question has often been asked: Was this man actually insane? If you read his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, published 1942, you may have that impression after having finished reading. The problem about this book, though, is: What is true, and what is just expressions of Dali's creative imagination or manic need to make himself a myth?

Nevertheless scholar Caroline Murphy from Oxford University has made an attempt to diagnose the artist. Here you have some of the points she made:

Dali often had hallucinations in his childhood, having imaginary friends. He had several phobias of which his fear of grasshoppers is well known. His sexual behaviour was unusual. He suffered from paranoia and was afraid of being assasinated.

His temper was uncontrolled. His family was terrorized and there were problems at school. An extreme narcissistic megalomania was a dominating part of his character. Dali opens his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali ( published 1942 ), with the following statement: "At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily since."

He had an extremely exhibitionistic lifestyle and behaviour: He liked painting when nude or wearing an eccentric attire, often wearing girl's dress. He manufactured a "stink odeur" out of fish, glue, aspic and goat manure (!).

His social skills were poor: Inapporpiate laughter, tactless, even brutal comments was part of his social conducts. He was obstinate and quarrelsome, lacking empathy and could as well be even cruel.

Often he was not able to look after himself. He lost his keys, his wallet and had often difficulties with everyday life.

Murphy's conclusion is that all these facets indicate that Dali may have suffered from an Atypical Psychosis and even more personality disorders like paranoia and schizophrenia.

It should be no secret that I disagree and in the following paragraph I'll explain why. Somehow the key to answer the question is hidden in Salvador Dali's most famous work: The Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory
Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory

A typical reaction after having read the autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, is that this man must be totally crazy. But as mentioned it is hard to find out which events are true or which are only products of an ( insane? ) artists strange imaginations.

I think that his work Persistence of Memory in a surprising way may contribute to answer the question of Dali's alleged insanity.

When asked about the intention with the melting watches, Dali once answered that they were inspired by a Camembert Cheese, melting in the sun, but we shouldn't take this explanation too seriously. Dali often consciously tried to confuse people with strange answers when questioned about his work.

Given the title of the work, the melting watches are rather depicting a distorted memory. This distorted memory is the memory of Salvador Dali who is the strange sleeping creature in the middle of the painting.

Now, this painting becomes a great comment on the autobiography: Dali is lying, but he is lying consciously, the lies - or the distorted memory - being part of the surrealistic project!

Nobody can deny that Salvador was excentric. But insane? No way! A madman isn't able to comment on his own mad imaginations like Dali is doing in this splendid work of art! Thus, Dali was more than right when he insisted that: "I am surrealism", and when he said: "There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”

And now, having just qouted him twice the time has come for some more ...

Salvador Dali quotes

  • When the creations of a genius collide with the mind of a layman, and produce an empty sound, there is little doubt as to which is at fault
  • You have to systematically create confusion, it sets creativity free. Everything that is contradictory creates life
  • People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings
  • When I paint, the sea roars. The others splash about in the bath
  • One day it will have to be officially admitted that what we have christened reality is an even greater illusion than the world of dreams
  • I don't do drugs. I am drugs
  • An elegant woman is a woman who despises you and has no hair under her arms
  • What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it
  • Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali
  • Since I don't smoke, I decided to grow a mustache - it is better for the health.
    However, I always carried a jewel-studded cigarette case in which, instead of tobacco, were carefully placed several mustaches, Adolphe Menjou style. I offered them politely to my friends: "Mustache? Mustache? Mustache?"
    Nobody dared to touch them. This was my test regarding the sacred aspect of mustaches
  • Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic
  • The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot
  • There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction
  • The difference between false memories and true ones is the
    same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the
    most real, the most brilliant

So now, was Salvador Dali a madman? Judge for yourself. And leave a comment if you like!


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      think the quote said "he knows he is mad. !"

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 

      6 years ago from Massachusetts

      My favorite Dali quote is "The only difference between me and a mad man, is that I am not mad."

      I've always loved his artwork!!

    • profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks for the encouraging words from both of you. Yes, the art of Dali is marvellous!What a challenge to our imagination!

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      6 years ago from USA

      Dali may have been a madman...who can really say? But he was definitely an artistic genius with a mind that was beyond creative. I saw his work at the Salvidor Dali museum in Florida, and it is mind-boggling, disturbing, beautiful... hard to describe. You've done a great job on this article! Voted up and shared with followers.

    • DenisesArt profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Very well done!


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