Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some Comments on Salvador Dali

From a social media discussion, April 2013, on this article in The Selvedge Yard.

"If it wasn't for his enormous moustache, he would have been the most ordinary man I had ever met." Pablo Picasso on dinner with Dali.

Dali's long cooperation (not to say dalliance, as much as I want to) with fascist Spain attests to this, which is a major reason he is fairly marginal in 20th century art history. His rebellions were entirely personal- there is little sense of liberating anyone else- rather, a mocking hostility and delight in control toward others.

This story is an illustration of the political limitations of shock value. Ultimately, shock values the power of the shocker- if this characterization of Gala is fair, she did a terrible thing to such a skilled artist, turning curiosity into pomposity.
Dali is sometimes dismissed as merely being skilled, but "technical ability" in painting is ultimately very difficult to divorce from the Art's subject, much, much more so than the recent conceptual view would suggest. Dali is rightly marginalized in some ways, especially politically, but it wasn't just empty or mechanical execution; he was full of remarkable visual innovation.

His sad end state, as described in the article, damaged his reputation even beyond his cosiness with, if not support of, fascism. But it is worth noting that many Pop innovations were pioneered by Dali: he used painted half-tone dots, arranged happenings, the whole nine yards early on, enough that I now wonder how much Andy Warhol self-conscious modeled the Factory on Dali's operation.

But to me that speaks towards the limitations of Pop. (And yes, I am deliberately making self-consciously annoying comparisons between Warhol and Dali. ) That being said, and as a fan of most of Picasso's work, it takes some serious doing to out-pompous and out-decadent Picasso, but Dali managed it.

Fascinating to this day how every other high school art student comes into college loving Dali. (Escher, right behind.) There's no doubt it had a power, but there is a hollowness in the air of a Dali that makes me want to avoid them.