Salvador Dali: Genius of the Unconscious

Salvador Dali was an artist in its truest sense, putting himself out in the world unfiltered. A painter, sculptor, filmmaker, printmaker, and performance artist, Dali was one of the most eccentric and controversial figures of the 20th century and his creative output of surrealist artworks is revered in the modern art world.
Salvador Dali
Source: Salvador Dali 

“It is perhaps with Dalí that for the first time the windows of the mind are opened fully wide,” observed the Surrealist leader Andre Breton for the works of Salvador Dali which encompassed and explored artistic languages and psychology presenting a never seen before representation of the subconscious amid the rising Surrealist and Absurdist movements.

Dali’s vibrant persona developed from a very young age and he was always booming with imagination and ambition. In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, he wrote that “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 ever since”.

His interest in art was nurtured both by the environs of his native Catalan, whose landscapes we see as a recurring motif in his later paintings, and his parents who supported him early on with his education and later as he enrolled in the esteemed art school Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, which became his lab as he experimented with Impressionist and Pointillist styles.

His artistic expression developed at the Marid academy where he fully inhabited his flamboyance and unconventionality. He explored as he engaged with varied creative personalities such as poet Federico Garcia Lorca and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. However, his stay at the academy was cut short when he was dismissed for instigating a protest against a teacher whom he believed to be of underwhelming capacity.

This expulsion served as a catalyst as he set off to Paris in 1926 where two major events shape his artistic beliefs. First was his interaction with the world of the French Surrealist artists such as Jean Arp, René Magritte, and Max Ernst, and second, was his discovery of Sigmund Freud’s readings. Freud was a leading neurologist and is the father of psychoanalysis and his most seminal contribution; The Structure of The Unconscious and Interpretation of Dreams was regarded by Dali as “capital discoveries” of his life. Akin to the other surrealists, Freud’s ideas formed the source of his art style as he combined realism and bizarre images.

Source: The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Several of his fine works manifest the insensible and phantastic quality of the mind such as in the Persistence of Memory(1931) which implies ideas of the dominant power of the unconscious in our daily lives. He dived deep into the Freudian theories as he produced extensive works of interpretation of Freud’s psychology and its various aspects of personality, fear, and erotic obsessions.

One of his paintings titled Sometimes I Spit with Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother (The Sacred Heart) also came after his encounter with Freud’s work. This painting however angered his father so that he disowned the artist. His other works such as The Le Grand Masturbateur and the Spectre of Sex-Appeal are seen by psychologists as representations of his fantasies and fears. Although there are heavy influences of the Freudian Psychoanalysis, he did not simply follow it but established his own approach and technique to perception and art.

Source:  Dali’s iconic style of the mustache
Years after his death, his works still astounds viewers all over the world as they try to decrypt the paintings with their strange and grotesque content. His signature curved mustache has become a symbol for artistic invention and can be seen on various merchandise. Though Aristotle’s famous quote, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness” is often used to describe Dali, He had once notoriously quipped “The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.”

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Written By: Aakriti Bhandari

Editor and Team Lead: Ashutosh Sharma

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About The Author(s)

Chemistry major with self-proclaimed good taste in Books and Music.

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Aakriti Bhandari
Part time literature major and a full time K-pop enthusiast.
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