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Why Do The Works Of Salvador Dali Hold Such An Appeal For Teenagers Essay, Research Paper

Calvyn Evans

ART: Personal Study

Draft 1

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was born in 1904 and passed away in 1989. He had been what the critics call an eccentric genius, a self proclaimed madman, and had lived a life of fame and fortune, mingling with the zenith of society and living what is popularly known as the high life. He was renowned for his insanity, the king of the absurd, and this came through in his paintings as much as it did through what he said. He has become the ambassador for surrealist art and surrealist philosophies, and his works are still causing controversy 11 years after his death. Or still being admired 11 years after his death.


To try to capture Dali, his life, his art, his reasons and influences and everything else that comes as part of the package, in four thousand words is a task to impossible to embark upon. That is why, when I decided to study Dali as part of my A – Level course, I knew that I would have to choose a specific period of his life and artwork, or ask a specific question just to make it even a vaguely possible task.

A lot of my friends, myself, and lots of people within my age group with whom I have conversed, seem to share a liking for the works of Dali. He seems to appeal to this particular group in a way most other artists don’t. In this study, I intend to investigate the reasons behind this collective, yet mainly unspoken admiration for his work, through the analysis of some of his most famous and most popular works. I will try to find out what it is exactly which appeals to this age group, and why it appeals to them.

Why does Dali have such an appeal for adolescents?

This, at first, seemed to me a question that lacked relevance. Not because it is a silly question, or because it is not a worthwhile question, but more because I hadn’t noticed that it did appeal to adolescents. I knew that it appealed to me, but not in particular to others of my age group. But the more I listened to the thoughts and opinions of peers and acquaintances, the more I started to think otherwise. And before long I realised that Dali did hold really quite a profound appeal for us teenagers. So I started my research into why…

The first thing to do, and the question that must undoubtedly be asked first, is that of the definition of adolescence. What exactly makes somebody an adolescent, other than the obvious physical changes that occur during this period of life? What is it that goes on in an adolescent’s head that particularly differs from people at other stages in life? Only by answering this can we begin to understand why Dali appeals to them.

Adolescence is renowned for being the period of our lives when we are becoming more aware, learning about ourselves and the things around us. The period when we question things, begin to find our own opinions and views and make up our own minds about things. It is also the era when we get burning desires, fantasies, doubts, and a whole load of other problems to go with it. There are various ways of dealing with these new feelings and emotions, and various mediums through which they can be dealt. Be it through writing, artwork or daydreams, every adolescent will find their own way of coping. And I think this is very important in understanding the reason behind the teenage fondness of Dali’s work. Because where the adolescent artist will transfer these fantasies on to a piece of canvas, seeing it as a way to release his/her emotions and tensions, others will do differently. An artist will fantasise, and usually when it comes to putting it onto canvas, elaborate upon this fantasy until it is no longer as personal as it was when it began. Until it can be perceived and understood, (whether or not it is perceived and understood in the way in which the artist originally intended), by other people. The connection with Dali comes when the adolescent is not an artist, when they find another way to fantasise, usually through the art of daydreaming. The connection? Surrealist art and the daydreaming mind.

When looking at a piece of work by Dali, you never quite know what it was that he was thinking at the time of its creation. Nor what it is exactly what the painting means. And so it is up to you to obtain from it any meaning that you may think it has. And they can have literally hundreds of meanings. And this is the reason why they appeal so much, why they ‘speak’ in particular to adolescents – because most people are bound to find somewhere in his artwork, something that they can relate to, something that they agree with. And during the age of adolescence, the age at which our imaginations are most active, we are most likely to daydream one of his paintings, or at least find in one of his paintings something which we can associate to ourselves.

One of the main reasons for this in my opinion is because each painting tells of so many different things. I do not believe that many of Dali’s works come from one particular image, or image from a dream, but instead are a complex compilation of lots of different visions, images and memories of dreams.

Take for example one of his most famous pieces – ‘The persistence of memory (Soft Watches)’. This piece is impossible to define, but easy determine your own meaning to. We know through a lot things that Dali said, and through the analysis of previous art critics, that ‘The Persistence of Memory’ is a statement concerning his own life and emotions. This in itself will be an immediate attraction towards adolescents, because, as was pointed out earlier, adolescence is a time in which we are regarding and considering our own feelings and emotions. But when we begin to examine and explore the piece, and begin to estimate some of Dali’s meanings, then we can start to see deeper into the attraction of this piece in particular.

The first thing that strikes you about the piece is the famous soft watches. At the time when Dali created this piece, a new figure, in the shape of his wife to be, Gala, had entered his life. This created in Dali new sexual ideas and questions, which found expression in ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ images. Dali developed a veritable anthology of pictures exemplifying these ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ images, and, of course, they appear on the ‘Persistence of Memory’, presenting an image of himself threatening to go limp with time (the soft watches). At the same time, the image is also aggressively phallic, and speaks of Dali’s high sexual charge. I believe that the points Dali is making, and the questions relating to sex which he is raising with the inclusion of these items, can be easily compared to similar feelings that thousands of adolescents are experiencing every single day. And I am of the opinion that this is an important reason as to why adolescents are attracted to his work, because questions of sex are actually raised in a large proportion of his works, as they are in a large proportion of adolescent’s minds.


Taschen, Dali

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