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Dali and Sensitive Erotica

July 17, 2010

There is a drawing by Salvador Dali in the Museum of the Art Institute in Chicago which got me rethinking his work, and how he may not have been the zany creative free spirit I had believed in during high school.  It is a smaller, delicate drawing of a girl or young woman on a larger piece of white drawing board.

In true Surrealist style, the work is titled “Imaginary Portrait of Lautrémont at the Age of Nineteen Obtained According to the Paranoic-Critical Method” [1937].  Aside from the Surrealist philosophy driven title, there is something very sensitive and honest about this little drawing, so small I could cover it with the palm of my hand.

I wonder what kind of work Dali would have done if he had lived in current times.  Now that I’m older, it seems to me a lot of external forces shaped his work.  I related the above drawing to the nearby pastel “Anthropomorphic Tower” [1930].  The tower is obviously phallic – to a cartoony fault- but the female forms are rendered with more care, are more detailed and sensual.

I accept that all artists are, at least to some extent, a product of the time they live in.  Dali lived in a time where important artists belonged to a movement; Surrealism was both avant garde and interesting.  Surrealism also gave Dali a pass on conforming to rigid, conservative Victorian values on not representing sexuality with its inherent concepts of being art that originated from within the unconscious or subconscious mind rather than being produced singly by the artist.  Dali’s wife had her hands in his career, with her manipulations and an eye for what sold, helping push his success through the branding of his persona and art as weird.  Dali also lived in a time when creating art was popularly paired with ideas of male agency; historically, he was not too far off from the time when Renoir declared “I paint with my prick.”  He would have had to go against macho artists stereotypes if he were to do a body of work characterized by sensitivity.

This leads me to wonder what kind of work Dali would have created if he were a more independent artist.  I think he could have generated a body of work focused on sensitive erotica.  Not just portraying the erotic as forbidden fruit or engage in rebellious use of the erotic for shock value, but to go forth and make a more intimate, exploratory and personal body of work.

To be more independent would have cost him a lot.  He would have lost the recognition that alignment with the Surrealist movement afforded him.  He would have had to draw more upon his own ideas and self for inspiration rather than Surrealist texts or manifestos.  He would have had to tell Gala to butt her nose out of his paintings -or start her own art career if she liked- deal with the domineering role she had in their relationship and give up the emotional security of letting her handle the business end of his career.  He would have had to go against masculine gender norms and take the heat for it.  All of these things benefited his career and helped engrave his name in the art history books as a genius, yet I can’t help but now wish he had risked a little more independence.

Categories: Art History, Uncategorized
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