Salvador Dali – Explore and analyse the metamorphosis of Dali’s belief system through his art Salvador Dali was an artist; known not only for his tremendous artistic talent and flamboyant and eccentric personality, but also for the greater meaning he entwined into his art. His contrasting beliefs led to an interesting metamorphosis of his belief system. Dali struggled between religion and science, due to conflicting family influences from his childhood and personal experiences which he would go on to endeavour in life.
Dali’s initial works commenced by experimenting specifically with scientific themes and ideas, which can be noted in one his most famous paintings; The Persistence of Memory (1931). However as his life progressed, Dali’s new reincarnated interest in religion, mysticism and metaphysics led him to believe that religion and science co-exist simultaneously, which he portrayed through his artwork. Dali developed conflicting views regarding religion from a very young age. The artist grew up in a household where his mother’s family were devout Catholics; however his father was a firm atheist.
Dali’s early views on religion were explicitly expressed in his drawing Sometimes I spit with Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother (The Sacred Heart) (1929). This abstract themed drawing of what appears to be the silhouette of Jesus Christ is incredibly blasphemous. The hand written “Parfois Je crache pour plaisir sur la portrait de ma mere “literally translates to “Sometimes I spit with pleasure on the portrait of my mother”. The drawing is done in black ink on a plain white canvas. This simple colour scheme proves to be very effective, as it delivers the message very clearly and graphically.
However, the simple nature of this particular drawing reflects what artists and literary figures from previous generations would have potentially branded as a “simple” and “earthly” mind due to the lack of belief in religion and one’s higher self. The style of writing could almost be associated with the types of print associated with cartoons. This just further reflects the lack of seriousness on Dali’s behalf. On the drawing, the words “ma mere” are specifically written in a bolder and larger size compared to the rest of the sentence.
This effect makes these two words stand out in particular, emphasising Dali’s abhorrence towards his mother’s belief system. The small drawing in the centre of the silhouette with the Christian symbol of the cross represents Dali’s version of “The Sacred Heart”. This heart which he has drawn appears to be a very deformed heart. According to Christian beliefs, The Sacred Heart is a devotional name used by Catholics to refer to the physical heart of Jesus Christ, as a symbol of divine love.
The devotion especially emphasizes the unmitigated love, compassion, and long-suffering of the heart of Christ towards humanity. By illustrating this “Sacred Heart” as deformed, Dali atrociously insulted his mother’s beliefs. This scandalous portrayal of the priesthood clearly reflects how Dali and his father viewed the priesthood as heavily corrupted, ignorant and hypocritical. The deformed heart reinstates how he thought the Catholic Church had deformed views, beliefs and a deformed lifestyle.
Dali was an artist who formed part of the Surrealism movement. In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world – the world of the marvellous, of my father Freud. I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world – that of physics – has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is Dr Heisenberg” (Salvador Dali, quoted in Elliott H. King, ‘Nuclear Mysticism’, Salvador Dali: Liquid Desire, p. 247). The artists from the surrealist era introduced the theory of the liberation of desire through the invention of techniques that aimed to reproduce the mechanisms of dreams (Centre Pompidou, 2007).
From a very young age, Dali was an avaricious learner of science and extensively read many books on geometry, mathematics, optical science, physics and natural history. Dali extensively studied and experimented with the Freudian theories on dreams and the unconscious. Several surrealist artists turned to hypnotism and drugs to delve into the dream world, where they looked for unconscious images that were not available in the conscious world, and Dali was an artist who was known for doing so (Art History Archive, n. d. ). The most famous painting associated with Dali is “The Persistence of Memory”, which was completed in 1931.
This painting perfectly expresses Dali’s intense fascination and interest with the world of science, in particular modern physics. Albert Einstein proved to be a strong influence and inspiration for Dali. Dali’s ubiquitous thirst for science and modern physics naturally drew him to Einstein’s idea of relativity from the early 1900’s. This painting primarily focuses on the theme of time and the idea that time is relative, not fixed. There are three clocks, which appear to be melting, drooping and fluid in movement. These clocks represent that time is irrelevant, especially during sleep.
However, the one watch on the desk appears to be normal yet closed, with ants crawling all over it. These ants are a subtle theme in the painting, suggesting that they are drawn to the decaying of time, as if it were “like rotting flesh” (The Museum of Modern Art). The colour scheme which Dali uses, is a scheme found in many of his other paintings. The use of the earthy colours such as brown, yellow and blue to portray sandy beaches and a slightly rugged coastline, resemble imagery which he had been exposed to as a child in Port Lligat.
The use of these earthy colours and scenes of nature in a raw yet calm form brings about a sense of grounding to the painting, which contrasts to the dreamy ideologies which were commonly introduced by Surrealist painters, in particular Dali. In addition, Dali uses contrasting shading and light in this painting. The left half of the painting appears to be under a darker light and shady, whereas the right hand side of the painting appears to be brighter and exposed to sunlight.
This subtle detail suggests that these two halves could represent the sub-conscious mind and the conscious mind. In the painting, the drooping, flexible clocks are placed within the darker shaded part of the painting, representing the subconscious mind and the dream world. However, the “conscious” part of the painting, which appears to be lit by sunlight, suggests that in reality, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This part of the painting also doesn’t enclose any of the clocks, which further emphasises Dali’s belief that in reality, time is definitely relative.
Whilst in America during the 1940’s Dali experienced a shift in attitudes and began to reinvent himself. Despite the hatred he had for the Catholic Church during his younger years, Dali found himself exploring and returning to his mother’s belief system. Dali reinvented his art to explore and combine psychology, science and religion. This urge to explore his religious roots came from his research regarding Spanish mystics, who believed that science, art and religion can be expressed and proved as one.
During this time, Dali came to know of the mathematician Matila Ghyka, whose works related to the golden mean, a harmonious proportion known to the Ancient Greeks and present in both nature and art. It was through this mathematician, that Dali came to learn of this unique and beautiful proportion. Dali was convinced that Ghyka had solved the problem of geometrical composition and used a transcription of his golden mean composition diagram as an inspiration for many of his compositions ( The Dali Dimension: DVD).
Dali incorporated the use of the golden mean in many of his works, such as The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955). In mathematics and art, two quantities are the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the large quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. This proportion has been used in the form of the “golden rectangle” since the renaissance era by many artists, and is believed to be the most aesthetically pleasing. Dali was heavily inspired and influenced by artists from the renaissance era and therefore incorporated the golden rectangle in his own works too.
The ratio of the dimensions of Dali’s painting Sacrament of the Last Supper is equal to the golden ratio. Dali incorporated into the painting a huge dodecahedron (with each side being a pentagon) engulfing the supper table. According to Plato, the dodecahedron was the solid which the god used for embroidering the constellations on the whole heaven, and is intimately related to the golden ratio; both the surface area and the volume of a dodecahedron of unit edge length are simple functions of the golden ratio.
In the painting The Sacrament of the Last Supper, Dali uses daring presentation. He successfully modernises a traditional and religious scene. The painting has an intense clarity to it, where the brush stroke artifacts that are barely visible give the image an even more meticulous quality to it. Dali presents Christ without any facial hair, which proves to be an extremely rare portrayal albeit a very effective one which modernises Christ.
The use of the chapel like setting through the use of modern architecture removes this scene from an ancient biblical time in history, replacing and bringing it to what possibly could be the present. The three-dimensional effect which Dali incorporates proves to be alluring and only exemplifies the modern feel of the scene this painting. By using the three-dimensional affect, Dali could also be hinting at an ethereal dimension of spirituality. The colour scheme which Dali uses consists mainly of celestial shades of blue and soft hues of gold and white.
Dali continues the beautifully spiritual theme with the body of Christ. The body is emphasised by the lack of a head, with his arms stretched over the Apostles symbolising that Christ offered himself up, however the Apostles are a metaphor for the mystical and metaphysical body of Christ. Dali seems to be the perfect match to create a modern-day painting of The Sacrament of the Last Supper, since he seemed to express a genuine understanding of the supernatural whilst having the uncanny ability to successfully merge modern science and religion in his work.
Dali’s painting Meditative Rose (1958) charmingly indicates a sense of profound, peaceful serenity and completion in Dali’s life, in particular his relationship with his wife Gala, with whom he had an unconventional yet fulfilling and committed relationship with. The large, beautiful rose is unique and stimulating and provides the main focus of the painting. The rose is synonymous with the female form and is featured as a motif and metaphor for a sexual symbol in many of Dali’s other works.
The rose bears a dual symbolism, which could represent Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as Dali’s beloved wife Gala. Dali’s positioning of the huge beautiful red rose hovering in the sky with a couple standing below it, promotes a sense of ambiguity and awe. The style which Dali has used is a unique blend of realism and dream-like fantasy. The tiny drop of water on the rose petal insinuates a realistic feature; however it can also infer a reference to holy water, implying that everyone’s life can have an auspicious element to it.
The distinctive Spanish landscape which blends a range of earthy colours such as shades of yellow, orange and brown promote a sense of unity and variety. Dali strongly disliked war and conflict, he painted this painting over a decade after the Second World War had ended; therefore the peaceful qualities of this painting reflect his own personal emotional state as well as the condition of the community too. The rose is known for its medicinal and curing properties and perhaps by using this precious plant a motif, Dali aimed to promote healing through his art work.
The journey for Dali to balance the struggle between religion and science proved to be empirical yet highly enriching and beneficial for him. Despite growing up with immense hatred towards Catholicism and religion, Dali turned to Spanish mysticism and metaphysics and proved that science and religion can perfectly complement one another. Through his artwork, his vivid expression along with his meticulous technique and exploration of challenging yet intriguing themes, perfectly show the journey and metamorphosis of his belief system.
Courtney from Study Moose
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