Through an examination of both primary and secondary sources on the subject, including various types of visual media in addition to electronic and written sources, Students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the basics of Surrealism as it developed as a movement in the aftermath of the Great War, how surrealism served as a vehicle for the rejection of traditional bourgeois culture, how Salvador Dalí specifically fit into the surrealist movement, and how he influenced other artists over the span of his long 20th century career.
Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.
Salvador Dalí, Declaration, 1929
The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.
Salvador Dalí, date unknown
His paintings are among the most famous of the twentieth century. Haunting, nightmarish and yet often playful, his dream-like visions have spoken to millions across the globe since he burst on the scene in the years following the Great War. His career spanned almost seventy years and thus his artwork can be seen in museums and exhibits across the world. Today he is seen as the very voice of Surrealism. His name was Salvador Dalí.
Dalí was born in Figures, a small city about an hour north of Barcelona on the northeast coast of Spain. Even as a child, the young Dalí seemed to have a knack for artistic expression, something his mother encouraged. By his mid-teens, Dalí early artistic works were being exhibited in Figures and Barcelona.
In 1922, Dalí moved to Madrid to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, where he was exposed to new and revolutionary artistic and psychological ideas. Surrealism, a cultural and artistic movement that developed out of the chaos of the Great War and heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on the human psyche and dreams, was born in the hands of Dalí and his Madrid contemporaries. Surrealists believed that traditional bourgeois culture itself was absurd, and they sought to turn convention on its head by delving into the bizarre and leading the world into a new state of consciousness.
In 1931, Dalí produced his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory. At only 10 x 13, the painting is one of his smallest, but its images are some of the most iconic in 20th century art. Persistence of Memory shows a series of watch faces “melting” across a theoretical, almost cartoonish, landscape. Ants and a “fading” creature are in the picture as well. These themes of combining representations of “hard” lines with “soft” images would be often repeated in different works in his subsequent years, and would become part of Dali’s artistic signature. The painting, now housed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, brought Dalí great success in the United States.
Over the next fifty years, he continued to create whimsical, often fantastic, eccentric pieces that he believed bridged the gap between dreams and reality. Over the years, some people were shocked and offended by some of the graphic imagery of some of his work, but Dalí shrugged off his critics by questioning whether their own inner demons were really at the heart of such criticism. In 1960, the artist, ever the self-promoter, began working on his own museum in Figures. He moved into a specially designed apartment in the structure in 1984, spending his last five years there as his health deteriorated. He is buried in the museum’s crypt.
Today, Dalí’s influence on modern and contemporary art is unquestioned. Images from his paintings and sculptures such as the melting clocks can be found around the world. His use of “mirror” images and surrealistic fantasy characters in art is commonplace in today’s society. He is said to have inspired Andy Warhol and other pop artists. Salvador Dalí spent a lifetime trying to shock the world out of its reliance on traditional societal norms. Today’s society seems more and more accepting of the fantastical and outlandish (take a look at such artists as Lady Gaga). Perhaps Dalí succeeded.
Through an examination of both primary and secondary sources on the subject, including various types of visual media in addition to electronic and written sources, students in this lesson will identify, understand and be able to explain the basics of Surrealism as it developed as a movement in the aftermath of the Great War, how surrealism served as a vehicle for the rejection of traditional bourgeois culture, how Salvador Dalí specifically fit into the surrealist movement, and how he influenced other artists over the span of his long 20th century career.
To view resource web pages, download the lesson plan PDF above.
While on tour in Northeast Spain, students can visit the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figures (about an hour north of Barcelona), where they can see for themselves an incredible collection of the artist’s work. Called the largest surrealistic object in the world, the museum was designed and built by Dalí himself in the early 1960s on the grounds of the former municipal theater in the city. When his health deteriorated, Dalí moved into an apartment at the museum. He died there in 1989 and is buried in the crypt. Please see the links below for the museum’s website.
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