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The Composition of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory: Analysis

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I have always wanted to learn about the history of art and the connotations artists attempt to convey through their works. During my visit to the Museum of Modern Art, there were sculptures, artworks and architecture that would have made excellent selections to study and write about. I narrowed my choices to Vincent van Goughs’, The Starry Night (1889), Salvador Dali’s, The Persistence of Memory (1931), and Henry Rousseau’s, The Sleeping Gypsy (1897). Ultimately, I chose The Persistence of Memory because every detail of this artwork drew my curiosity forward. First, the artwork is not as large as other paintings at the MoMA, but its concept is like no other as well. Next, The Persistence of Memory is enclosed in a boxed display with glass covering, almost as if we are looking in through a three-dimensional window. Lastly, within the boxed display is an olive-green velvet border around the painting, which Salvador Dalí applied himself. His attention to detail was exquisite because the olive-green velvet border seemed just as graceful as the vibrant colors used in the painting. Every decision regarding abstract objects, element, medium, representation, and illusion work together to convey Dalí’s message so precisely but in unanticipated ways also.

The composition of The Persistence of Memory consists of planes (flat surfaces giving direction in artwork), asymmetrical balance, illusions of depth, impeccable line detail, manipulation of shapes, and dreamlike colors. To begin, Dalí creates multiple planes, producing a box which we see in the bottom left corner of the canvas. The dead tree emerging from the far side of the box has horizontal and vertical orientation. Also, the human-like “creature” on the middle foreground of painting is shown in a diagonal plane. Next, asymmetrical balance is present in this painting because the objects are positioned juxtaposed but still maintain balance. The watch on the bottom left of painting is large but you still notice the tiny ants positioned right on top of the clock. Also, the pocket watch is painted a brighter golden-orange intensity as opposed to the ‘melting’ lighter blue watches. Dalí uses ‘hard and soft’ objects to give a further distinction to the objects. The pocket watches are depicted as pieces of cheese because they are melting, producing a psychological effect of time diminishing or fading. The platforms and cliffs are depicted as hard objects to symbolize reality. Third, the cliffs (captured from environments of Dali’s home) and ocean create an illusion of depth. Regarding line detail; this artwork consists of thin, angular lines capturing the ridges of the cliffs, thin lines representing delicate eyelashes of the humanoid, and stiff vertical lines on the tree. Salvador Dalí manipulated the reality of shapes in The Persistence of Memory because we know clocks to be round but, in the painting, they are biomorphic (moving as if they are living creatures). The blue watch on the left platform looks as though it is sliding off the platform. Lastly, this artwork uses analogous hues of yellow, brown and blue with varying values and intensities. There is bright sunlight on the top right portion and shadows as your eyes travel to the left of the painting.

The methodology I would like to use in interpreting Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory is psychoanalysis, which is a division of psychology founded by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis helps us understand how creativity, dream imagery and real history may work together in production of Surrealist paintings. In psychoanalysis, imagery is derived from dreams, neurological symptoms, or jokes through which the unconscious mind is revealed. The psychoanalytic approach utilizes other methodologies in order to gain a psychological understanding of the artwork and how it impacts the viewer. Iconography is shown by using the meaning of watches in our reality to interpret their meaning in the painting. Biography is displayed because the painting has elements of Salvador Dali’s life. Dalí induced neurological symptoms to create art by undergoing hypnosis in order to experience hallucinations. The Persistence of Memory was created by Salvador Dalí like a “dream photograph”, in which the vivid colors flow elegantly, and the finished painting resembles a photograph taken with a camera. “Dalí painted with what he called ‘the most imperialist fury of precision,’ but only, he said, ‘to systematize confusion and thus to help discredit completely the world of reality”. I believe Dali wants to discredit reality to demonstrate his belief of surrealism, which is the joining of the conscious (reality) and unconscious (dreams) to create an absolute or complete reality (Britannica). In an absolute reality, we understand watches represent the telling of time, but they also symbolize time becoming non-existent in Dali’s “dream photograph”. Dali wants to draw the viewer out of what they believe is reality and encourage curiosity. Salvador Dali uses illusionistic style to fool our eyes (trompe l’oeil) as he painted a side profile of his own face right in the middle foreground of the painting. We see painted eyelashes over a closed eye (dreaming), his nose, unforgettable mustache and his mouth is open as if he is snoring.

Salvador Dalí, born in Catalonia, Spain (1904), was a founder of the Surrealist movement. The movement originated in Paris during WWI (early 1920’s) and succeeded the Dada Movement. Surrealism is a cultural movement in which artworks are composed of elements of surprise, imagination, free-flowing expression. The actual term surrealism is defined as being above reality or “a state of being that is more real than mere appearance”. Surrealism was founded on Sigmund Freud’s studies of how dream analysis and the unconscious mind can allow imagination to manifest in reality. Surrealist artists were going against the norm of traditional art (derived from logic) by tapping into their dreams/fantasies to create art. Salvador Dalí’s, The Persistence of Memory, embodies surrealism because the hard objects of reality acquired properties of soft objects, which is physically impossible but is possible to imagine or dream up. Also, the orange pocket watch covered in ants symbolizes that real physical time is no longer relevant. Furthermore, when asked to explain this painting, Dalí stated that the clock found on the dead tree was inspired in him by the look of the Camembert cheese melting in the sun. The Persistence of Memory is one of Dalí’s most famous and notable artwork and he had many supporters. One patron, Edward James, supported Dali financially for two years, assisted Dalí in increasing his exposure and purchased Dali’s entire art selection in 1937. Salvador Dali also contributed artworks to James’ home in London and helped design the interior. 

The Persistence of Memory has psychological value because it influences the viewer not through logic but through emotion. Psychological value of art is defined as the viewer’s reactions to art pertaining to human emotions such as, pleasure, fright, amusement, anger, and avoidance. Dalí’s painting makes us question what all we believe about time and reality because he introduces us to this idea that time is not permanent and that our dreams do not have to end once we awaken. The psychological purpose of considering different modes of reality is to enlighten the individual about living up to his/her full potential. We can incorporate ideas from our dreams into our everyday life to create ‘the best of both worlds’ and an absolute reality. Psychological effects of this painting include; the platform upon which the dead tree is positioned seems to indicate to us that time is slipping away; ants and flies are attracted to things that are decomposing, and, in this artwork, time is decomposing as Dalí dreams. It may seem as though I have just described a nightmare, but the colors used in The Persistence of Memory are bright, vivid and included dreamlike waters that have no end.

I believe ‘art’ is many different things but also, each individual values art in their own unique way and we cannot define art as one singular idea. Art can be a form of escape from reality or simply a means of expressing ones’ self. I find peace in having headphones in, instrumentals or cultural music playing, while I draw and give my mind the chance to release my imagination on paper. Art is therapeutic because it helps us to relieve our stress (escape reality), even just for a small moment, the tranquility we experience can be everything we needed. The Persistence of Memory portrays both tranquility of dreaming without time constraints and the darkness of ants scavenging on the watches. Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory coincides with my views on art because it captures the idea that our dreams and our reality are intertwined. To quote Salvador Dalí, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to source, Dalí used art to ascend above the reality of present time toward his everlasting dreams. In the world of Salvador Dalí, ideas could be manifested from his dreams into a unique piece of art highlighting a paradox of time. 

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The Composition of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory: Analysis. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-composition-of-salvador-dalis-persistence-of-memory/
“The Composition of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory: Analysis.” GradesFixer, 09 Jun. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-composition-of-salvador-dalis-persistence-of-memory/
The Composition of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory: Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-composition-of-salvador-dalis-persistence-of-memory/> [Accessed 15 Aug. 2022].
The Composition of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory: Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Jun 09 [cited 2022 Aug 15]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-the-composition-of-salvador-dalis-persistence-of-memory/
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