What Do You Think of Dalí?

I have to admit that when it comes to aesthetics, Salvador Dalí’s art doesn’t do much for me. And honestly, I don’t think I know anyone who finds Dalí’s work to be aesthetically-pleasing. Most people I know have described Dalí’s art as cerebral, Freudian, or just plain weird.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that Salvador Dalí’s art has a significant place when it comes to art history. I think it’s great that most art history students are introduced to The Persistence of Memory (1931, shown above). I enjoy comparing Dalí’s work to other Surrealists and seeing how it fits in the grand trajectory of art.1 I also think it’s interesting to apply a Freudian interpretation to Dalí’s art.

Aesthetically, though, I am drawn to the work of other Surrealists, like Miró and Magritte. Dalí really doesn’t do anything for me.

I wonder about how important aesthetic was to Dalí. He obviously produced a distinct style – but I wonder if this wasn’t due to aesthetic taste but more-so for emphasizing an artistic statement (or perhaps so he could better market himself as an artist and commodity).

Matthew Kieran wrote about how Dalí’s film, Un Chien Andalou, is completely incoherent (which really was the purpose of the film). The film was not created to display aesthetically pleasing shots for the viewer. Kieran argues that people (or at least some people), “seem to [place] value in art images or music which are assumed to fall outside the sphere of aesthetic value because they are ugly, grotesque or incoherent and that is their very point.”2

I think I agree with Kieran – Dalí seems to be valued because of the incoherence and cerebral nature of his art, not because of aesthetics.

I know that people have varying opinions on what makes something aesthetically pleasing or constitutes an aesthetic response (and Kieran even discusses this fact in hist article). In your opinion, do you think Dalí is “outside the sphere of aesthetic value?” C’mon Dalí fans, speak up and defend yourselves! There has got to be someone out there who is aesthetically drawn to Dalí’s style, and I’d like to hear their reasoning.

What do you think?

1 Although Dalí was part of the Surrealist movement, he was expelled from the official group in 1934

2 Matthew Kieran, “Aesthetic Value: Beauty, Ugliness, and Incoherence,” Philosophy 72, no. 281 (July, 1997): 386.

  • GermyB says:

    I have the same reaction to Dali's works, in general. I know this is a pretty popular painting of his that is quite lovely:

    The Rose

    But really, if you like that kind of surrealism, just look at Magritte, not Dali.

    I also quite like this one, just because I feel like I kind-of "get it:"

    Les Elephants

  • M says:

    I quite like that painting, The Rose, GermyB. I actually wasn't aware of it. The colors are quite nice, and there seems to be a sensitivity in this painting that's different from most of Dali's works.

  • Rebekah says:

    I think that cat is saying "get me out of here".

  • kashurst says:

    I've always liked Dali. It's the weirdness I like. But as for aesthetics, I've always liked the roundy-ness of his subjects and the colors that are soft but saturated. Here is one of my favorites:


  • phin says:

    I think that I disagree; I do think that Dali can be admired for his aesthetic appeal, even though he does have several very odd works, but who doesn't?

    He painted one of my favorite Crucifixion works:


  • e says:

    I'm kind of disgusted by the thought of Dali, but for a whole different reason. Word is that Robert Pattinson (of "Twilight") is playing him in a film. I just don't know how I feel about that. I mean, anything with Robert Pattinson is just pure hysteria and that just really turns me off (in this case, to Dali).

  • M says:

    kahurst, I can understand how you're drawn to the roundy-ness of Dali's subjects. Although I don't love that kind of look, I can totally see how people could find that aesthetic pleasing. Thanks for your comment. I love finding out why people are drawn to certain artists and looks.

    And phin, you commented! 🙂 Hooray! I didn't know that you liked that Crucifixion scene. I've met a couple of students who have found that painting to be very profound. (And, on an unrelated note, I like your Blogger picture with the fish. phin = fin!)

    e, I had no idea that Robert Pattinson is supposed to play Dali in an upcoming film. How bizarre! I've never seen the Twilight movie, but I did see Pattinson as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter (Goblet of Fire) film. I can't see Diggory as Dali.

    I don't really have an interest in seeing this film, but anyone who IS interested can watch the trailer here.

  • heidenkind says:

    e~RPatt is play Dali??? ROTFLMAO Oh my goodness I will have to watch that one.

    I don't find Dali aesthetically displeasing. But it's true that his paintings aren't really about aesthetics; more about ideas and images. Dali had an incredible memory and ability to play with images. I heart him, personally.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.