In May 29, 2010, Michelle Roberts from BBC reported the connection between schizophrenia and creativity. In her article, she argued that creative minds ‘mimic schizophrenia.’ Supporting her article, British psychologist Mark Millard reiterated that “Creative people, like those with psychotic illnesses, tend to see the world differently to most. It's like looking at a shattered mirror” (Roberts, “Creative Minds Mimic Schizophrenia”). Another article from the Scientific American written by Scott Barry Kaufmann, director of the Imagination Institute at the University of Pennsylvania also tackled the nexus about Dali’s eccentric personality to the people suffering from schizophrenia. As a carte blanche, this paper will focus on the two questions: 1. Did Dali suffered from a mental illness? 2. What is the connection of Freud to Dalian artworks? When Freud published his theory of personality in the early twentieth century, he argued that the personality consists of three main components: the id, ego, and superego which are the basic drives repressed by the society. This thinking influenced the Surrealist art movement and even Dali himself. Therefore, this paper argues that Dali in his quest to express his desires, used psychoanalysis in order to communicate with his viewers about the true nature of his personality. First part of the essay will discuss the early life and career of Salvador Dali with the inclusion of few excerpts from his biography. Second will focus on the analysis of his major artworks and how Freud influenced Dali’s artworks. Third part will serve as a conclusion summarizing the points argued in this essay.
“There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.”
—Salvador Dali (qtd. from Kaufmann, “The Real Link between Creativity and Mental Illness”)
Art is a form of self-expression and this medium was thoroughly used by artists throughout centuries to express what they could not utter in words. Van Gogh and Dali are few examples of artists who exhibited an eccentric personality and this ‘unique’ attribute was further seen on their notable artworks. Scholars claim that van Gogh suffered from mental illness which led him to create his famous Starry Starry Night; on the other hand, Salvador Dali was believed to have suffered from schizophrenic attacks due to his eccentric personality. It is universally known that Salvador Dali astounded the early twentieth century with his bizarre and almost disturbing artworks. One might say that Dali is the real and quite a neurotic personification of a true artist who used his own artistic talents in order to convey his messages to people. However, unlike the traditional artists such as the Monet, Gauguin, and others; Dali’s paintings were heavily influenced by the scientific writings of Sigmund Freud. Ever since the development of the psychoanalysis in the early twentieth century, Freudian writings became more popular as well as controversial amongst scholars and Surrealists. The Surrealism movement in the early twentieth century patronized the Freudian psychoanalysis because although it started as a theory, its aim was to release the ‘hidden desires’ and emotion (McLeod, “Psychoanalysis”) repressed by the society through “education and cultural restriction” (Freud, “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,” 43; qtd. from Javier-Lopez, 41). Surrealist painters argued that instead of painting pictures to ‘impress’ people, art should be seen as an interpretative medium wherein the artist can convey their emotion and alter the ‘subjective perception’ through bizarre image representations that would allow them to isolate themselves from strict society norms (Javier-Lopez, 37). Before Dali became known as the man with an upturned mustache, he was already eccentric even during his childhood days. He was born in May 11, 1904 to Salvador Dali-Cusi and Felipa Domenech-Ferres as their second son (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 1; Dali, 35). His older brother also named similar to him died from infancy whilst his younger sister named Ana Maria was born in 1908 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 1). Dali spent most of his childhood in Catalan, Figueres, his birthplace and hometown. The family also went every summer Cadaques, a beach village (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 1). As a child, Dali was already unique and eccentric. He began his early education at public school in Figueres. His attitude towards studying was not pleasant, since he often spend his studying hours ‘daydreaming’ instead of listening to his teachers. As a result of this attitude, Dali’s parents was outraged and he was flunked out of public school and he was enrolled in a private education where he studied using French as medium of instruction (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 1). Most of the avant-garde art movements originated from France and learning the French language became useful to him as an artist. Some biographers note that the reason for Dali’s hatred towards schooling was the fact that most of the studying was done inside the four corners of the classroom and he hated the notion of being confined within it. In addition, Dali’s book called The Secret Life of Salvador Dali provides an interesting detail about the artist’s crazy behavior as a child. In the second chapter, Dali discussed how he enjoyed disguising as other people (Dali, 69). In a brief paragraph, Dali tells his readers about a charade he pulled off after his performance in Cadaques when he was still nine years old.
“Disguising is my passion as a childthat evening, I looked at myself in the mirror naked; the crown above my head and the cape draped over my shoulders serves as adornment. Then I pushed my sexual parts back out of sight and squeezed them tightly in order to become a girl.” (Dali, 69-70).
Cadaques was also the place where Dali honed his artistic interests mainly painting the seaside landscape with Ramon Pichot, a close family friend and also a Post-Impressionist painter (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 1). In 1922, he attended the Academy in Madrid and enjoyed the liberties of self-expression; however, Dali was not thoroughly challenged by his professors’ which caused him to encourage his fellow students to try bizarre painting styles much to the shock of his teachers. This action led to his a disciplinary action and dismissal in 1926 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 2). After the incident, he went to Figueres and devoted himself to art alone. To some art connoiseurs, Dali’s paintings were portrayals of morbidity, shocking, and horrific portrayals of his eccentric mind. Because of this, he was isolated from the Catalan art community (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 2). One of Dali’s notable artworks were as follows: The Persistence of Memory painted in 1931 using oil on canvas. In this painting, Dali explains his awareness in his own mortality. Dali used a combination of wavy and straight lines in order to portray the softness and hardness of the objects. The center of the painting focuses on what looks like a sleeping face; although not a real face but an eye with long lashes in a deep sleep, with a melted clock on top of it. In the left corner, a decayed tree can be seen also with a melted clock hanging loosely on one of its dead branch. Next to it is another melted clock with ants. The main theme of this painting is the passage of time. Dali symbolizes his own self as the decaying flesh at the center of the painting. The painting explains that one cannot see the passage of time in sleep. Sleep in this painting can be associated with death as well for one is no longer conscious to notice everything in the surroundings particularly the decay of one’s body as represented by the ants. To emphasize his points, Dali made his figures quite larger than the usual. Among the objects he emphasized were the sleeping face, clocks, the branch, and the ants. The least figure he emphasized was the landscape. According to Freudian analysis, The Persistence of Memory was a painting created from the work of the subconscious. Dali’s painting suggests his awareness as well as fear that every living thing will approach its own death in its own time. The painting used dark colors to give the painting a sinister and eerie effect. Much of the background was colored by dark brown paint; dark cerulean blue was used to depict the sky; whilst the red brown and golden ochre were used to illustrate landscapes. This painting can be seen on the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Another popular Dalinian artwork painted in 1936 was the Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War). In this painting, Dali managed to convey his interests in sexuality as well as his opinions regarding the Spanish political tension which will eventually lead to a civil war. The image emphasizes a mutilated body showing the misplaced limbs and head. The colors he used were light, similar to the Impressionist painting styles; however, his painting was not meant to impress. Painted using oil on canvas, Dali portrayed the possible results of the civil war through the mutilated bodies, so horrific that no one could ever identify its gender. Grotesque, shocking, bizarre, and horrifying, these are the appropriate descriptions that viewers associated with this painting. Dali tackles the premonition of the results that will happen upon the start of the war. He illustrates the damage it will cause to the people as well as to the community. Furthermore, unlike his other paintings, Dali used much lighter colors probably to enhance the morbidity of the image. The figures were irregularly shaped; followed by taut and soft lines to differentiate soft and hard muscles; light and dark variations were meticulously used to show depth; whilst abandoning symmetry and proportion. According to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dali made his “own version of surrealism to achieve concrete irrationality” (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War”). Throughout his lifetime, Dali’s name became associated with shocking and bizarre art forms. Dali’s knowledge of Freud’s psychoanalysis allowed him to reflect into his inner subconscious which allowed him to see things that are unusual than the normal ones. As soon as the Freudian works were translated in Spanish language in the 1920’s, Dali became engrossed in incorporating paranoia and psychoanalysis in his artworks (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 3). He also developed a technique called ‘paranoic-critical method’ using ‘self-induced hallucinations’ (Museum of Modern Art, “The Persistence of Memory”; Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 3). By the end of the Second World War, Dali continued to explore his fascination towards the sciences and etched his name in the international art community. The aftermath of the World War opened the doors for ‘new thinkers,’ people who are liberal in terms of their views towards artworks. There were two museums created for him; one was the Teatre-Museu in his hometown in Figueres (also his final resting place), and the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Salvador Dali: A Biography”, 4). Due to Dali’s bizarre attitude, some researchers often associate his incredible genius to schizophrenia. According to Dr. Scott Kaufmann, psychology offers an explanation behind the disturbing prevalence of creativity and mental illness. In his article called The Real Link between Creativity and Mental Illness, schizotypal personality traits can be distinguished into two forms: “positive” trait often includes “bizarre perceptual experiences, magical and surreal beliefs, and thin mental boundaries between self and other” whilst the “negative schizotypal traits” include his “lack of pleasure derived from social interactions.” (Kaufmann, “The Real Link between Creativity and Mental Illness”). Dali’s negative schizotypal trait can be tracked in his biographical account wherein in the second chapter of his book, he described that in order to stay in his own world or to have a time of solitude; “he would scare away the children by making an angry face or pretend to have a stomachache and lock himself in the toilet” (Dali, 74-75). On the other hand, Dali’s “positive schizotypal traits” was the fact that he believed that he was the “reincarnation of the Anti-Faust” (Dali, 67). Moreover, although Kaufmann linked these traits as a sign of schizophrenic attack, these traits actually contribute to the artist’s creativity because he allows himself to explore the unconscious and releasing them through painting to express their inner thoughts. “The key to creativity is let more information enter as much as possible” (Kaufmann, “The Real Link between Creativity and Mental Illness”). This is absolutely true of Dali’s artworks since most of them were highly influenced by his fascination in exploring the unconsciousness, as triggered by Freudian psychoanalysis. Therefore, based on his personal accounts and psychological studies, Dali can be labeled as ‘schizophrenic’ because of his creative madness. As a conclusion, Salvador Dali contributed to the art world by exploring the nature of the unconsciousness. His eccentric mannerisms, attitude, as well as his bold, shocking, and unique painting earned him a lifetime place in the art community as one of the pioneers of Surrealism. Dali’s creativity was triggered by his frequent daydreams which began as a child. These day dreams that he experienced were his tools in order to express his deepest thoughts through his artworks.
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Lopez, Ignacio Javier. “Film, Freud, and Paranoia: Dali and the Representation of Male Desire in “An Andalusian Dog.” Diacritics 31.2 (2001): 35-48. Web. 6 Jul. 2015.
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