The persistence of memory by S. Dalì, a cross-currricular project
Salvador Dalì:The Persistence of Memory “Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalì.” Martina Guerriero Martina Trocchi
A preliminary remark:- What is Surrealism? It was a cultural movemen tthat began in 1924 with its centre in Paris: it was founded by Andrè Breton. The group met in cafes to discuss psychology and social revolution. Surrealistic style used visual imagery from the subconscious mind to create art without the intentiono flogical comprehensibility. It was attracted by the psycho analitical work of Freud and Jung, but it did no taccept Freud‟s description of the dark side of the human nature. Visual arts played an importantrole in delivering the Surrealist messageto the public, through both painting, sculpture and pop music or film directing. Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalì, who was the greatest Surrealist painter,s aid:"There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”
Salvador Dalì - Biography Salvador Dalì was born on May 11th, 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. 1922: at the age of 18, he began his studies at Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts) in Madrid. He was well known for his Dandy-like manners and even more for his paintings. 1926: he was expelled from the school just before his final examination, after proclaiming that none of the professors were qualified to examine him. After that, he moved to Paris, when he met Pablo Picasso for the first time. 1929: the artist joined the Surrealist movement and he met his future wife and Muse, Helena Diakonova, known as “Gala”. Healsomadefilms, like “The Andalusian Dog” withBunuel. Heworkedwith Hitchcock, Disney and the photographer Man Ray. 1934: he was expelled from the Surrealist group, since they were outraged byhis refusal to take a political stand against fascism and by the commercialization of his works. 1942: he published his autobiography “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalì”. 1960: he started to work on The Dalí Theatre and Museum, in Figueres. 1982: Dal ìwas suffering for palsy condition. His beloved wife Gala died. He died from heart problems on January 23rd, 1989 in his hometown.“I myself am Surrealism.”“The only d ifference between me and the Surrealists, is that I am a Surrealist.”
The Masterpiece:- The Persistence of MemoryLa Persistencia de la Memoria 1931, oil on canvas, 9½by 13‟‟ (24.1 x 33 cm), MOMA of NY
- Description The landscape is the one of Dali‟s beloved Port Lligat, the northest corner of Spain, in the province of Catalonia. “Irrational, fantastic, It‟s composedby: a fetus-like head; fourwatches, three of which are molten, as they‟re made o fcheese; the only one whose structure doesn‟t appear to be malformed is sitting paradoxical, on a step-like object and the ants seem to have found a point of interest in its centre.disquieting, baffling, Main colours: brown, yellow and blue. alarming, The importance of light: The rock on the left is in the shadow, and the one on the right is lit; hypnogogic, the ants, the three melted clocks and a fetus-like object all reside in the shade as well; the mountains and the water are lit by sunlight.nonsensal and mad –but to the Surrealists It can be drawn a diagonal line between the shadowed place and the lit ones The distorted (soft) images that are in the shade are representing subconscious images, while these adjectives are the sun-lit mountain (hard) and water represent consciousness. the highest praise.” The empty, desert-like expanses of the painting are much closer to the topography of the mind, to a dreamscape. -MOMA of NY- It‟s to notice the lack of clues of distance, of recognizable landmark, of time, of temperature.
-What is the meaning of this painting? Dalì was also a philosopher and he studied works by Freud and Nietzsche. “The Persistence of Memory” is a collection of ideas, that deal with interpretation ofdreams, perception of reality, time, birth, death and sexual desire. Each imageof the picturehasinterestingmeanings:The watches;The ants;The fly;The olive tree;The steps;The amorphous shape;
- The Watches Perhaps they‟re nothing more than ideasi nfluenced by the Camembert cheese left for a too long time on the table, during a warm sunny day (“Diary of a Genius”, S. Dalì) It‟s clear that they really represen time– some haves uggested the picture pays a tribute to Marcel Proust‟s“Remembrance of Things Past” and acknowledges the power of the unconscious to preserve memories over time. According to one of the many theories, the drooping pocket watches possibly suggest the irrelevance of time during sleep. Dalí juxtaposes two ordinary symbols of time: clocks and sand The clocks are melting over a vast and lonely beach that resembles the sands of time. The fact that the watches are soft seemingly contradicts the significance of time itself, rendering both time and the machine that measures it ineffective and irrelevant. They are powerful and disturbing images of entropy, that fundamental physical process by which all things decay in time. A more psychoanalytical approach to the “Persistence of Memory” is considering the limp clock representing a nostalgic return to a state of amorphousness. See “The Catalan Bread” (1932).
- The AmorphousShape This figure is recognizable from other of Dalí‟s paintings as a self-portrait, which he called “The Great Masturbator” and that he developed in Lorca Paintings. This self portrait seems to emphasize sleep, positioning the painting‟s dreamscape as a concrete realization of an unconscious world. The embryo-like shape refers to Dalí‟s memories of intra-uterine life and remembers the trauma of birth. A watch sagging across it evokes feelings of timelessness associated with the experience of pre- birth.
- Ants and Flies As symbols of decay, they‟re common in Dalì‟s works of time, in which World War II was about to break out. Seemingly attacking the orange watch, they indicate the anxiety associated with time. We all understand, even if only on subconscious level, that some day we are dying.
- The Olive Tree A major agricultural product of Catalonia, the olive makes its appearance in early works like “The Lane to Port Lligat with View of Cup Creus” (1922-23) and “Cadaquès” (1923). In “The Persistence of Memory” the dead olive tree reinforces the sense of decadence of the painting and it‟s in reference to the Spanish Civil War. It helps creating not so much a dreamscape as a nightmarish one.
There are two steps: the large brown one in the lower left-hand corner, and the less prominent blue one at the horizon on the painting‟s left side. Also in other paintings of the time, like “The First Days of Spring” (1929) - Steps Dalì paints steps as part of a visual language of Freudian symbols. “Steps, ladders or staircases, or, as the case may be, walking up or down them, are representations of the sexual act. Smooth walls over which the dreamer climbs, the facades of houses, down which he lowers himself - often in great anxiety - correspond to erect human bodies, and are probably repeating in the dream recollections of a baby’s climbing up his parents or nurse. The “smooth” walls are men.” “The Interpretation of Dreams” – S. Freud
- Another theory the painting maybe a visual depiction of the idea behind Einsteins theory of relativity: that time itself is relative and not fixed. Dalì himself hadnt‟ shown much interest in painting from science until after World War II, when he turned into a deep change. It began „Nuclear‟ (or „Atomic‟) period of his work. His paintings started suggesting the atomic composition of what is known as matter. See “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” (1952/54).
- How human memory works Forming memory is a four-step process and four is the number of the main types of human memory:Sensory memory;Working memory;Short-term memory;Long-term memory.According to this theory, the sensory memory is the persistence of sensations and it permits to attach our experiences to something we end up remembering at its deepest level. “Give me two hours a day of activity, and I’ll take the other twenty-two in dreams” Salvador Dalì
- Conclusions Dalì often called his paintings “hand-painted dream photographs”. In “The Conquest of the Irrational”, Dalì remarked:“Soft watches are nothing else thanthe tender, extravagant and solitaryparanoic-critical Camembert of time and space.”
“It was on anevening when I felt tired, and had a slight headache, which is extremely rare with me. We were to go to a moving picture with some friends, and at the last moment I decided not to go. Gala would go with them, and I would stay home and go to bed early. We had topped off our meal with a strong Camembert, and after everybody had gone I remained a long time at the table meditating on the philosophic problems of the „super-soft‟ which the cheese presented to my mind. I got up and went in to my studio, where I lit the light in order to cast a final glance, as is my habit, at the picture I was in the midst of painting. […] In spite of the fact that my headache had increased to the point of becoming very painful, I avidly prepared my palette and set to work. When Gala returned from the theater two hours later the picture, which was to become one of my most famous, was completed. I made her sit down in front of it with her eyes shut: „One, two, three, open your eyes!‟ […][I asked her, “Do you think that in three years you will have forgotten this image?” “No one can forget it once he has seen it.” “Then let‟s go and sleep. I have a severe head-ache. I‟m going to take a little aspirin. What film did yousee? Was it good?”“I don‟t know… I can‟t remember it any more!” From “The Secret Life of S. Dalì”