The Link Between Creativity and Psychopathology in Salvador Dali’s Art

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About this sample


Words: 1599 |

Pages: 4|

8 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 1599|Pages: 4|8 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Topic analysis
  3. References


Salvador Dali is one of the greatest surrealist artists who have changed the art world with his unique style and innovative concepts. Dali in real sense is a creative genius and a precocious artist who has been influenced by metaphysics and cubism. Dali transforms his dreams and fantasies intelligently into great artworks which are open for interpretation by the viewers. He has introduced the concept of paranoiac critical method which refers to the use of subconscious to improve the creativity. He uses the concept of illusion to convey his message and demonstrates the ingenuity and complexity in his artwork. He is a creative genius who has incorporated science in his art.

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Dali has a unique personality and at times eccentric and with his unusual attire to draw attention. He is not only a great artist but a mysterious and a philosopher who contributed a lot to the surrealist movement by his great artwork. The use of illusion, concept of the paranoiac critical method, incorporating science in art and his unique and creative personality are the subjects of further discussion in this essay.

Topic analysis

Illusions are noted as a disconnect between physical reality and subjective perception. Salvador Dali has perfected this concept and created a number of genius artworks to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality. He uses a concept of ambiguous illusions where the subject produces contradictory perception as illustrated in Old Age, Adolescent, Infancy (Oil on Canvas 1940), disappearing images (1939) and so many others.

In the first painting he stimulates our brain to perceive the visual stimulation of two opposing images of a fisherwoman and the stages of life to create a sense of ambiguity. In the second painting he creates a confusion in our mind by challenging our brains to make a sense of the artwork. The concept of illusion has been used extensively by artists to make to see the double images of the same subject, but Dali is way ahead of his contemporaries. He understands the unique ability of our brain to interpret the visual stimulation in a disorderly manner from partial or interrupted information.

Dali is a genius in creating an image within an image and with this the subject can be interpreted with two different meanings. His artwork based on illusions asks the viewers with a question and challenges them for interpretation and there comes the role of his genius creativity. His constant use of illusion in an artwork to blur the distinction between fact and fantasy, a hallmark of surrealist movement has been exemplified by many of his famous paintings. The brain ability to fabricate links among things that are in reality unconnected is essential to the “paranoiac-critical method” artistic method invented by Dali. Dali shows his ability to create multiple images from a single work and this demonstrates the creativity of his visual cortex to perceive more than one image from the single stimulus.

Paranoia is a complex psychotic condition with no hallucination and without a personality disorder resulting in a complex delusion. Dali is known for introducing the concept of paranoiac critical method in the early 1930s by which he allows his paranoid state to create paintings and artworks with optical illusions and multiple images. This has been a great creative contribution by Dali to the surrealist movement. Dali asserts that “the moment is at hand when, by a process of a paranoiac and active character, it is possible (simultaneously with automatism and other passive states) to systematize confusion and thus help to discredit completely the world of reality” (Finkelstein 1975).

He externalizes the “systematize confusion” in to art work away from world of reality. In painting “Suburbs of the Paranoiac-Critic City he fantasizes about his wife and transform her anatomy in grapes and horse and skulls in series of sketches. He feels that any subject has minimal meaning, but the visual stimulus perceived by the brain results in multiple images sometimes unrealistic and confusing. Dali claims that through a deliberate simulation of paranoia, anyone engaging in the paranoiac- critic method would be able to demonstrate that a reality is not a fixed entity to which an individual responds but rather a construct born out of that individual comprehension of the world.

The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition (1934) is another example of Dali’s work based on this theory. In this work he shows the back of a lady who probably is a nurse sitting on the beach. There is an odd collection of items around her such as wine bottles, side tables and boats. The back of the lady is propped up by a crutch. There is no relation between the subjects and the objects and probably results from the subconscious thinking of Dali. It is assumed that Dali’s painting of the 1930’s exhibit and active paranoiac delirium, but it is also possible to consider them as reflecting some of Dali’s preoccupations but utilizing images that are undivided from Dali’s fundamental mode of seeing (Finkelstein 1975).

Dali is one of the rare artist who has mixed science with art from the very early stages of his creative life. He studies many scientific journals and his library is full of books on physics, quantum mechanics, the origin of life, evolution and mathematics. He makes meticulous notes after reading the books and uses this information for his creative art. Dali starts working on the principles of physics as early as the 1930s with multiple paintings like Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion (1930, Paranoiac Face 1935 and Endless Enigma in 1938).

These paintings show the creative genius of Dali using the principle of optics. He moves from one aspect of science to the next one with a deeper understanding of science. He is greatly moved by the Hiroshima atomic bomb and produces a famous work “Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll” (1945). It shows a fighter place dropping bombs in the middle and the yellow flames showing the explosion. The most interesting part is the black background representing the hopelessness and the depressing feeling of human beings.

Following this catastrophic event, he uses atoms and nuclear fusion in his artwork during the 1940s and 50s. He blends religion and scientific imagery, intellectually driven by Dali’s belief that complex subatomic structure of the universe argues for the existence of a higher creator. His involvement with science moves with time and produces more and more work based on the newer discoveries. He produces a painting of the DNA molecule as a part of the appreciation to Watson and Crick and names the work Galacidalacitesoxiribunucleice - Acid (1963). He combines the name of his wife Gala and DNA together in his work. Dali moves from atom to DNA, stereoscopic physics to catastrophe theory and all of these scientific facts are incorporated in his work during that period.

Dali is a creative genius, an excellent artist, film producer, costume designer and a thinker but has a complex personality. He comes out as a person with unpredictable behaviour, eccentric and a publicity seeker who tries to keep himself in the spotlight all the time. Dali does not believe in discipline and is constantly disturbed by his desires and conflict in his life. It is difficult to describe his behaviour in exact wording, but Dali describes many of these traits in his autobiography. He describes about many dreams with vivid clarity and to the last detail and childhood hallucinations. He feels quite disturbed with these thoughts throughout his life. He shows a great interest in psychology and admires the work of Sigmund Freud and goes to meet him.

Dali also describes his visits to a psychiatrist and denies any psychiatric issues. He creates a cologne with foul smell by mixing goat manure and fish glue and justifies his creation with odd explanation. Dali has a ferocious attitude for the art of self-promotion and appears tirelessly willing to emphasise the same message wherever he goes. There is no better way of describing Dali’s behaviour other than by his own quote “There is only one difference between a mad man and me. I am not mad”.

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The relationship between creativity and psychopathology has been reported as 35% in great painters. Many of his behavioural traits like odd dressing sense, covering a car with grass and taking his anteater pet in the subway are possibly relates to some underline psychopathology. Dali and his contribution to the history of art is a perfect example for highlighting the fact abnormality is not necessarily disagreeable, or to be so readily dismissed as a sign of a neurological disease. Dali’s behaviour can be criticised for its oddity but not at the cost of his creative genius.


  1. Dine, T. (2015). The influence of Salvador Dalí on Social Communication in the Years Following Second World War. Academic Journal Of Interdisciplinary Studies. doi: 10.5901/ajis.2015.v4n2s2p125
  2. Finkelstein, H. (1975). Dali's Paranoia-Criticism or The Exercise of Freedom. Twentieth Century Literature, 21(1), p.59.
  3. Fisher, G. (1967). Ambiguous figure treatments in the art of Salvador Dali. Perception & Psychophysics, 2(8), pp.328-330.
  4. Gibson, I. (1952). The shameful life of Salvador Dalí. New York: W.W. Norton
  5. Gott, T. (2009). Salvador Dali and Science. Chemistry In Australia, 76(8), 22-23.
  6. Guardiola, E. and Baños, J. (2003). Dalí and the double helix. Nature, 423(6943), pp.917-917.
  7. Greely, R. (2001). Dali's Fascism; Lacan's Paranoia. Art History, 24(4), pp.465-492.
  8. Karlsson, J. (2009). Genetic association of giftedness and creativity with schizophrenia. Hereditas, 66(2), pp.177-181.
  9. Martinez-Conde, S., & Macknik, S. (2013). The Neuroscience of Illusion. Scientific American Mind, 22(3s), 6-9. doi: 10.1038/scientificamericanillusions0913-6
  10.  Martinez-Conde, S., Conley, D., Hine, H., Kropf, J., Tush, P., Ayala, A., & Macknik, S. (2015). Marvels of illusion: illusion and perception in the art of Salvador Dali. Frontiers In Human Neuroscience, 9. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00496
  11. Murphy, C. (2009). The link between artistic creativity and psychopathology: Salvador Dalí. Personality And Individual Differences, 46(8), 765-774. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.01.020
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