The Persistence of Memory’: Analysis Essay

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Art Research Project

Biography

The Persistence of Memory painting is a Surrealism style of art created by Salvador Dali. The painting was created in 1931 during the surrealist art period. The surrealist art period was created after World War One, and started in Europe. According to the Artsy.net article from author Mann J., “Surrealism’s goal was to liberate thought, language, and human experience from the oppressive boundaries of rationalism…interested in the idea that the unconscious mind—which produced dreams” (3,4). The Surrealism art style is present in The Persistence of Memory painting when looking at the three clocks that look like they are melting or bending over the object that they lay on. The painting depicts a dreamlike state with the three melting clocks in it. As stated by the legomenon.com article from author Shabi K., “ the melting and distorted clocks symbolize the erratic and unreliable passage of time that we experience while dreaming.” (5).

The painting came out and was created during the early 20th century. The clocks in The Persistence of Memory painting can reflect how much has changed in technology. The technology change is shown in the painting with how there are three distinctly different clocks placed around the painting. Also, the three clocks have noticeably different looks and orientations, which can symbolize how much technology has changed. According to the auralcrave.com article from author Affatigato C., “Time melts, abandoning any claim to be an absolute reference, with some references to Albert Einstein’s new Relativity Theory, according to which time became a flexible, questionable coordinate.” (4). The relativity theory can explain why when you look at the painting it looks like it appears to be dreamlike. Also, the different types of clocks in the painting can represent the past, present, and future.

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Messages Conveyed

One message in The Persistence of Memory is that the painting looks like a dream or like a dream-like state. According to thedaliuniverse.com, “our subliminal unconscious mind is present in what we do in our daily lives and has more power over us than man-made objects of the conscious world.” (2). Dali could be showing us with this painting that in a dream or dream-like state time doesn’t have much effect there and this is the reason why the three clocks look like they are melting or bending and looking to be soft. Also, Dali could be that sometimes in a dream weird things like duck heads can appear in them.

The Message is that the painting looks like a dream or dream-like state because the work of Sigmund Freud influences some parts of the painting. As stated by the medium.com article from author Beams S., “Freud’s theory was that dreams are messages sent to us by our subconscious and that we merely have to decode them to understand what our subconscious is telling us.” (6). The uses of theory by Dali can be seen in The Persistence of Memory painting.

By the use of Freud’s theory, Dali could use The Persistence of Memory painting to tell what his dreams look like at times. As stated by the medium.com article from author Beams S., “Dali believed in this philosophy so heavily that it’s part of the reason why he self-induced hallucinations: by altering his mental state, he believed he was able to achieve a dream state and thus access his subconscious. When using his paranoic-critical method, he painted exactly what he saw in great detail, and refused to deviate from it.” (7). This could explain the weird duck-like face that is laying on the ground in the painting. Or how the colors that Dali picked to use in his painting look like colors that would be in a dream.

Another message of this painting has to do with the melting clocks that are throughout the painting. The melting clocks are shown to be melting in the painting with the three clocks. This melting of the clocks represents how time flows differently in the dream world state than in the real world. This is represented by the fact that the three clocks are all melting in three pretty unique ways, like how one of the clocks is melting over a tree branch, one is melting over the side of a cube or table, and the third clock is melting over what seems to be an animal laying on the ground. According to the legomenon.com article from author Shabi K., “ The distorted melting clocks in The Persistence of Memory may symbolize our very different experience of time while we dream…In the dream state, hours can elapse in what feels like no time at all.” (5). This references the times when we wake up from sleeping and think we only slept for a minute but in reality, hours went by when we didn’t even know it.

The message of the three melting clocks can also show Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As stated by the legomenon.com article from author Shabi K., “According to Einstein’s theory, time is a relative and complex concept that cannot be tracked with a crude, simple gadget like a clock or a pocket watch. In The Persistence of Memory, Dali’s clocks might be melting away because they are outmoded and losing power over the world around them.” (7). By this Dali is trying to show that the melting clocks are soft and moldable to the environment around them. When we sleep, time in our dreams seems to flow normally, and only minutes go by but when we wake up hours have passed. Also, Dali is showing that the clocks being peaceful means that people can bend time to their liking, meaning that they can make time go as fast or as slow as they want it to. This bending of time can be how sometimes when we do an activity like watching a movie time goes by fast but when we do something we don’t enjoy that same time can feel like it's moving very slowly or not moving at all.

The last message in The Persistence of Memory is that of death. Some art critics believe that Dali shows hints of a message of death with the ants on the one clock. As stated by dalipaintings.com, “ The insects in 'The Persistence of Memory,' a fly on one clock face and the ants on the face-down clock, variously signify death…” (15). The upside-down orange clock with ants on it could show that it is degrading away because of its age. The art critic might be saying that the ants are drawn to the upside-down orange clock because it is degrading or has a smell that is drawing the ants to it. Dali might have sneakily hinted at death because the ants are only on the faced-down clock and not on anything else in the painting.

Another art critic believes that the duck-looking face represents death. According to vsemart.com, “ Shapeless object with eyelashes. This is a self-portrait of sleeping, Dali… A dream is a death, or at least an absence from reality, or, even better, the death of reality itself, which is the same as dying during the act of love” (3). According to the art critic, the duck-looking face must be in the absence of reality. The face might be trying to snap back into reality but can’t, making it appear to be dead, because of the squinting of the eyelids on its face. Also, the duck-like face might be showing death according to Dali because whenever you look at the face its eyelashes always seem to be falling off or unattached from the head, representing that it is decaying away and that it has been dead for a while.

The same art critic also states their thoughts on how the ants on the clock represent death. According to vsemart.com, “Ants – a symbol of decay and decomposition. Left on the clock, the only surviving hardness…” (5). By this statement, the art critic states that the ants are on the upside-down orange clock means that the clock is rotting away by the works of decomposing. Also, the message can be seen in the statement by this art critic that the clock is starting to rot away or decompose and the ants are on the clock to help in the process of it decaying.

Personal

From my point of view, the painting is very captivating. When I look at the painting my eyes are first drawn to the three melting clocks in the painting. When I look at them, they look as if they are bending or melting over the object they lay on top of. The clock on the tree branch looks to be stretching one hand of the clock as it bends around the tree. When I perceive the clock on the rectangle it reminds me of what the end of a snail looks like when it moves, kind of like Gary the snail for example. It looks like that could mean that it is melting, and the outside is turning to liquid, which is distorting the inside.

Another interpretation of The Persistence of Memory, that I notice when I look at the painting is how it looks like a dream or dream-like. The colors of the sky in the background look like a sunrise, which would be the most common type of colors someone would see when they are dreaming. The thing that clock to the right is on top of looks like something that someone would dream of when they are sleeping. When I look at that object, I see a thing that represents a duck head. This is because the piece that is the closest to the viewer looks like the shape of the bill, and looks to have the curve that the front of a duckbill has. The eyelashes on the duck look like something that someone would dream of when they are sleeping because the eyelashes resemble human eyelashes. Lastly, the ground in the background is reminiscent of water or a lake.

To some scholars, the usage of the duck face and the ants on the closed clock can represent death. I interpret the duck face to be sleeping because the thing that looks like human eyelashes, seems to be squinting or pushing its eyelids together hard. I think that if the duck face was representing death the eyelids wouldn’t be squinting like the face is trying to keep them closed. But when I look at the ants on the clock, I interpret death. I think that the ants interpret that the clock that they are on is decaying or breaking down. Also, I see that the ants show that the clock doesn’t work anymore or is broken.

In conclusion, The Persistence of Memory painting is a Surrealism art created by Salvador Dali. The Persistence of Memory painting has messages of the painting looking like a dream or dream-like state, how the melting clocks represent how time flows differently, and how the painting represents death. Lastly, we see how I interpreted the painting when I viewed it.

Citations

  1. A brief history of the surrealist image - the persistence of memory. The Dalí Universe. (2017, October 10). Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https:www.thedaliuniverse.comennews-brief-history-the-surrealist-image-the-persistence-memory.
  2. Affatigato, C. (2018, September 17). The meanings of Salvador Dalí's persistence of memory. Auralcrave. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https:auralcrave.comen20180917salvador-dali-the-persistence-of-memory-and-the-lost-meaning-of-a-melting-world.
  3. Beams, S. (2020, August 7). The story behind Salvador Dali's 'The persistence of memory'. Medium. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https: medium. com everything-art the-story-behind-Salvador-days-the-persistence-of-memory-acb11f1766a6.
  4. Mann, J. (2016, September 23). What is Surrealism? Artsy. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https:www.artsy.netarticleartsy-editorial-what-is-surrealism
  5. The persistence of memory hidden symbols. Art Kaleidoscope. (2019, April 26). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https:vsemart. compersistence-memory-hidden-symbols.
  6. Persistence of memory, 1931 by Salvador Dali. 10 Secrets of 'The Persistence of Memory' by Salvador Dali. (n.d.). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from https:www.dalipaintings.compersistence-of-memory.jsp#.
  7. Shabi, K. (2013, May 29). Salvador Dali Persistence of memory: Meaning of the melting clocks. LEGOMENON What is the Meaning: Online Literary Journal
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