One of the Most Recognizable Works of Surrealism


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 “Time is a storm in which we are all lost,” stated William Carlos Williams. Salvador Dali, a famous Spanish artist illustrates a painting which agrees with that statement. Salvador Dali is one of the most protean and prolific artists of the 20th century. During his career as an artist, Dali successfully involved himself in much more than just painting. He was introduced to the world of sculpture, painting, fashion, advertising, writing, and filmmaking. In the 1920’s, he traveled to Paris and made relationships with other famous painters such as Pablo Picasso and René Magritte, which led to Dali’s first surrealist phase. Dali’s oil paintings were associations of the images he saw in his dreams. Dali manifested his dreams into his craft and turned it into art with the motive to portray to the world what was happening in his unconscious mind. This paper will take a look at and analyze Salvador Dali’s-The Persistence of Memory, painted in 1931.

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It is an oil on canvas painting and measures 9 1/2 x 13( 24.1 x 33cm.) The painting has three clocks that look deflated and one pocket watch all resting on different objects. The time on each one of the clocks is different. The clocks are in the foreground and in the background, you can see the coast of the ocean. The clocks look like they’re gliding off of the objects they’re rested on. The clock thats on the only tree in the painting, looks like it’s been thrown over the branch. The pocket watch- which is the only watch that’s not gliding off the surface is placed on what looks like a step, also, where the tree is planted and has ants crawling on it- which suggests that time is to be cherished because it doesn’t last forever. Dali often portrayed ants in his painting as a symbol of decay. 

The clock on the same step as the pocket watch is gliding off the edge of the step. The last clock is positioned and is also gliding off of what looks like a cloth with lashes on it. The unfamiliar looking cloth is positioned in the middle of the painting. The artist uses a variety of different techniques to enhance the meaning behind the painting. Dali uses the element of texture using different brush techniques to make the clocks appear smoother, by making the area surrounding the clocks appear rough. Dali also uses a variety of colors to create depth in the picture; he uses light brown in the background and dark brown in the foreground. The colors seen are opaque and the canvas has a smooth texture.

The Persistence of Memory painting is a work of surrealism. Surrealism was first introduced in the 20th century. It was an avant-grade movement with the purpose to free the creativity of the unconscious mind. This idea could unquestionably be seen in Dali’s painting; the eccentric looking clocks and unfamiliar looking cloth both depict a dreamlike atmosphere. The white cloth placed in the middle of the painting is presumably the most protruding object in the painting. “This figure is an example of metamorphosis, a device Dali and other Surrealists used to merge human, vegetal, and animal forms into a single unit. It occurs often in Dali’s work.” Everything in the painting looks real and in a way already familiar to the human eye. However, we know that it cannot possibly be real; this objective, is what defines surrealism.

The artist also practiced paranoiac-critical method, which is a technique that Dali himself developed. It is a mental exercise of accessing the subconscious to enhance artistic creativity. “Salvador Dali induced himself to hallucinate in order to access his subconscious while making art, a process he called the paranoiac critical method. On the results of this process, he wrote “I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas. I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams….” This is all connected to the fact that the artist was also a long time fan of Sigmund Freud’s work. 

Dalí said in his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, ‘I remember with a gentle melancholy spending those afternoons walking haphazardly along the streets of Austria’s ancient capital. The chocolate tart, which I would hurriedly eat between the short intervals of going from one antiquary to another, had a slightly bitter taste (…) In the evening I held long and exhaustive imaginary conversations with Freud; he came home with me once and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.”  Freud’s work had an extensive influence on Salvador Dali’s paintings. Freud’s ideas of the unconscious and dreams encouraged Salvador Dali to connect to the unseen and transfer his subconscious mind into art. “Freud asserted that dreams are coded messages from the subconscious. Dalí and the surrealists sought to tap into their dreaming, subconscious mind and discover its revelations.” In The Persistence of Memory, the scene painted doesn’t come from real life. The objects portrayed come from a dream world.

When looking at the painting, the viewer’s eyes are first drawn to the more ominous foreground before they wander to the background. You can see some evidence of life in the foreground; the board near the water, the rectangular step, and clocks. However, in the background there’s no form of life represented. The water has no tides and is motionless, making the background appear excessively solitary. Although the scenery looks familiar to the human eye, the viewer finds themselves questioning the uncanny objects in the painting; Why is the tree dead? Why do the watches look like they’re melting? What is the white cloth in the middle of the painting? There is no answer to these questions. Dali stated that he painted “to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality.”

In conclusion, Salvador Dali’s painting “The Persistence of Memory” is a rather perplex work of art. The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dali illustrates a surreal landscape that suggests peacefulness is to be cherished and time has no relevance in an effort to reshape public mindset.

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