As Salvador Dalí once said, “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.” To some, Salvador Dalí may in fact seem crazy, a genius labeled eccentric because of his great discoveries. The sheer number of his artistic and literary contributions would suggest so. The quality of his pieces would as well; Dalí is known around the world for the sheer brilliance and insight of his pieces, which are templates for surrealism and other forms of art. Salvador Dalí was a painter and writer who radically and irrevocably influenced surrealism and all art in the twentieth century.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí I Domenech was born at 8:45 in the morning on May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Spain. He was named after his older brother, who had died nine months earlier. His sister, Ana María, was three years younger than he was. To be educated, Dalí first went to the Christian Brothers’ Immaculate Conception primary school in Figueres, taught by Señor Esteban Trayter. He graduated and proceeded to secondary school at the Academy of the Marist Order in Figueres and the Figueres Institute. Even from an early age, Dalí showed a marvelous aptitude for painting. He was introduced to modern art on a family vacation in 1916, and quickly started to produce his own pieces. “In 1919, Dalí participated in a group exhibition of the Sociedad de Conciertos in Figueres. At this time, the fifteen-year-old Dalí sold two paintings, his first recorded sale of works…and received praise in his first critical review.” Unfortunately, Dalí’s quick, early rise in the art world was blighted by the death of his mother from cancer on February 6, 1921. Soon thereafter, “much to Dalí’s chagrin, his father married Catalina Domènech Ferrés, the sister of his first wife.” His mother’s death was a blow to the young Dalí, but it did not deter him from becoming a renowned artist.
In 1922, Dalí was accepted into the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid. While there, he experimented with cubism, a relatively new art form which alarmed his fellow students, the majority of whom were conservative. Indeed, his appearance was quite alarming as well; he wore eighteenth-century English clothing and had long hair and sideburns. Despite his talent, however, Dalí was expelled from the school in 1926 after refusing to have his paintings examined by the faculty. In his new freedom from the rigors of academics, he experimented with many different schools of art, including cubism, ultraism, Dadaism, and futurism, before finally settling on surrealism. Today, Dalí is known as a multifarious artist because he did not create pieces that all fell into one or two specific categories.
In 1929, Dalí and his friend Luis Buñuel made several short surrealist movies, most notably Un Chien Andalou, or An Andalusion Dog. Filmmaking, however, was not Dalí’s main passion; during this time, he continued to create art and to invent new ways of expression. “During the 1930’s, his principal innovation was the development of ‘paranoia-criticism’, which he defined as a form of ‘irrational understanding based on the interpretive-critical association of delirious phenomena.’” It was also at this time that he met his future wife. Gala was married to the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard, and together with their daughter, Cécile, they were traveling to Paris on a family vacation. Gala soon left her husband for Dalí, starting a relationship that would last for fifty-three years. Through the early twentieth century, Dalí remained focused on his art. He painted one of his most celebrated paintings, The Persistence of Memory, which depicts melting clocks and watches. For a time, he was the leader of the Surrealist movement, but right before World War II, Dalí was eschewed from the artists group because he would not become involved in the war politically.
Dalí and Gala fled to the United States, where they were received with enthusiasm and praise. Because of Dalí’s art, the couple was ensconced in New York high society, gaining the posh friends like Edward James and Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who would later on support his artistic endeavors. Eventually, after World War II, Dalí and his wife returned to Spain, where he continued to work on surrealist art, producing his famous Lobster Telephone and a sofa made in the shape of Mae West’s lips. Though he is most known for being an artist, Dalí was also a writer; -“Dalí was also a prolific writer: as well as producing a novel Hidden Faces (1944), he vividly described his artistic goals in such works as The Conquest of the Irrational (1935) and The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942).” Dalí was so engrossed with his work that he remained in his house in Spain for the rest of his life, only occasionally traveling outside of his home for shows or the occasional vacation.
When Dalí was 76 years old, he became severely ill, and he was confined against his will to his house with only his doctor, his wife, Gala, and his financial manager, Enrique Sabater, for company. Though the artist’s friends protested, Dalí was kept in solitude and information from or about him was scarce; the mystery surrounding his condition was such that it was widely suspected near the time of his death that Gala, Salvador’s wife, and Sabater, his financial advisor, were exploiting him and his money without his knowledge. After a long, successful life, Salvador Dalí died on January 23, 1989 from heart failure. “After his death Dalí was buried in the Teatre-Museu Dalí in Figueres, which had been founded in 1974 as both a repository of his work and a theatrical monument to his ideas and personality, and where he had given drawing classes to groups of international students in his last years.”
Though he is gone from this world, Salvador Dalí still lives on in the paintings, books, and other pieces of art that he left behind. He truly accomplished more in his life than most can even dream of. Salvador Dalí was an accomplished artist who revolutionized surrealism and all schools of creativity. He was indeed mad, mad enough to re-imagine the future of art and to make a lasting impact on the world.