Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dali: Madman or Genius?

“The sole difference between me and a madman is the fact that I am not mad!”
~Salvador Dali

Without doubt he was talented. And an individualist with enormous ego. Said Dali, “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.”

Was Dali’s bizarre style a put-on to increase his marketability or was he simply a madman whose talents brought him critical acclaim, despite his ludicrous behavior?

According to the Masterpiece Paintings Gallery website, "Dali's ego and need for attention were never satisfied. His thirst for scandal was unquenchable. And 'the thought of not being recognized was unbearable', he said. He used to walk through the streets of New York ringing a bell whenever he felt people were not paying him enough attention. 'Every morning when I wake up I experience an exquisite joy -- the joy of being Salvador Dali -- and I ask myself in rapture what wonderful things this Salvador Dali is going to accomplish today.'”

As an art student I found Salvador Dali’s sensational work remarkably invigorating and inspirational. Inspirational on two levels… first, his extreme attention to detail and the skill of his painterliness, and second, for the evocative quality of his imagery.

Steve Martin, in his autobiography Born Standing Up, in passing mentions an incident during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York whereupon he comes across Dali's Persistence of Memory. Martin was quite surprised at how small it was. Like Martin, the first piece I saw in person was this famous painting of melting clocks. At the time, Picasso’s stunning Guernica was on the wall just before I reached Dali’s piece. Guernica is enormous, and impressive. Just around the corner Dali’s Persistence of Memory was, in contrast, a tiny little thing, yet astonishing in its detail. When you look at plates of paintings in art books, both paintings might take a page of the book, and your mind just doesn’t quite grasp the reality.

My second Dali was the shocking/fascinating Soft Construction with Boiled Beans - Premonition of Civil War which hangs in a private collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is a wonderful museum, with the Dali piece accompanied by some of Marcel Duchamp’s most significant works, a great place to hang out if you are a masterpiece.

But if you seriously want to take in more than a piece or two, I strongly recommend you visit the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida which is wholly dedicated to this icon of Twentieth Century Surrealism.

While visiting the Dali Museum two springs ago, a tour guide told us a story about small sculpture composed of a lobster sitting on an old fashioned telephone rack. Dali, while dining, threw the lobster over his shoulder and it landed on the phone after knocking the handheld part off the receiver. He loved the look and made it “art.” Crazy or creative?

But the story that sealed my impression that he was a bit mad was when the tour guide said he went through a brief period in which he refused to say any two sentences in a row in the same language. So he would say something in Spanish, then French, then English, then Spanish, etc. This went on for days, maybe weeks. You can imagine the conversations that followed… or didn't.

If you've never been and you're anywhere near Tampa/St. Petersburg, you owe it to yourself to visit the Dali Museum. In contrast to Persistence, you will see fifteen foot high paintings like the Hallucinogenic Torredor, along with many rooms of other major works. The Torreador alone is worth the visit.

Although among the Surrealist Movement's brightest lights in the 1930's he was eschewed by these famous artists who composed the Dada Movement because Dali was a capitalist and they were socialists. As it turns out Dali mastered the art of making money, which contributed to his legacy. On the flip side, his mass production of prints of his work resulted in scandals that in some circles has damaged his name. It may be because his definitions of truth and ethics are as ambiguous as his motivations.

Here is a YouTube film that reveals the character of Dali's mind: self absorbed and over stimulated.


michael fitzgerald said...

The Dali museum stands as the best small museum I know, even better than the Musee Rodin in Paris. I had no interest in Dali, just some free time while in St. Pete. i found the museum showed me not just Dali, but something about art overall. I had only experienced most artists via a famous work, or a couple of paintings. This museum puts Dali's career in context from beginning to end, and offers excellent notes about his development.

I highly recommend it.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the note. Yes, it is definitely a marvelous experience.

Occasionally there are travelling retrospectives that show a large body of one artists work... in New York I saw a Matisse retrospective with a 167 pieces... and a wonderful Picasso show of early work. Not sure of the origins of either... but seeing awhole body of work in one place is rewarding... The Dali museum is rich and it is accessible.

Thanks for recommendation and visit to the blog.

Christella D. Moody said...

It was the 60s. We were with friends in a restaurant at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. It was one of the classiest hotels in New York. Dali was seated not far from us when the waiter brought a telephone to his table and told him he had a telephone call. I was so impressed and said how important it must feel to have a phone brought to your table. One of the gentlemen with us left the table and without my knowing it, called me, and soon the waiter was going through the room calling my name. Dali looked up at me and I smiled as I took the call. Never forgot seeing him.

Ed Newman said...

Great story. That's so funny that he noticed you like that. Did he return the smile?

thanks for sharing.

Christella D. Moody said...

I think he was surprised that someone besides him got a telephone call. No, he didn't return the smile. He was startled than anything.

By the way, I love the way you write. While I read for content I'm most interested in the writer's style. In some books I read the same paragraph over and over again just to enjoy the writing.

Background Music and The Old Man and the Pea hooked me.

How do you find so much time to write?

Ed Newman said...

I start my day with a shower, do email and write a blog entry. I imagine myself a journalist on deadline. (I like to get to the office early, so I have to write fast.) Occasionally I will put together a piece the night before, and I always have additional things in the hopper to draw from, occasionally cannibalizing matierial from my old website at (and ironic name for a website that never produced any business.

If you have time, I would be interested in getting your take on my blog entry called Strange Fruit...

Thanks for the visit again. Many happy returns... or thought provoking ones.

Christella D. Moody said...

Excellent post.

The third paragraph from the bottom of Strange Fruit reminds one of what Obama is going through today. Did you see the future? "that he dare not challenge "the Man," dare not himself be a man, raise his head and look into a white man's eyes with defiance, " Maybe it is time you recycled this post since it was written before the election.

When the record was released many radio stations refused to play the song. And you're right. People cannot understand the Black power movement unless they understand Strange Fruit. Unfortunately, many people claim they did not even know what was happening to Black men. Sometimes music tells the story better than words.

Check out, if you haven't seen, Harlem in Monmartre on PBS, which is about Jazz in France (after WWI) and why so many musicians left America. My friend's son, Dr. Brent Edwards, who did his dissertation on the topic, is one of the commentators.

I'm blessed that I was able to see most of the musicians you wrote about in the post.

Another topic
You write and you have a job. I'm impressed.

If this is posted twice, sorry. Wasn't sure if it posted the first time.

Ed Newman said...

Hello again.
1. When I was growing up in N.J. I used to go into the City and take in the gallery scene (art)... Yes, the jazz scene and music scene was so alive there as well... would have been enriched... but alas, missed much. (I have enjoyed what I have experienced there and in New Orleans)

2. Yes, I should recycle that soon.

3. Do you do Twitter? Sometimes people Re-Tweet...

4. Yes, I was aware of the 30's movement to France of artists and musicians. Thanks for the tip on the PBS piece.

5. I know what you mean about things not registering when you push enter ... I have entered a duplicate comment a few times....

Be well.

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