How much can you respect something you do not fully understand?
Blind respect is the prerequisite for dogma. It can be dangerous, like the edicts of the Church were in Medieval times or like superstition and astrology is today.
But art is meant to be experienced. Not understood. We do not all understand Mozart’s 7th symphony, but it most certainly moves us.
A couple of days back, we visited Figueres and Cadaqués, where Salvador Dali was born and spent most of his years working. His surreal works are by definition not meant to be understood. But something about them continues to move its audience.
Dali is an eccentric personality, who pulled off bizarre publicity stunts and actively commercialised his work. He also worked hard at building a personality cult around himself. Featured on Time Magazine’s cover at the age of 32, he hasn’t since looked back. His quote from 1953 reads:
“Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí….”
A couple of years later, he drove his friend’s Rolls Royce to the Sorbonne school in Paris with the car filled to the roof with 500 Kg of cauliflower.
How does one appreciate an abstract, eccentric artist like Salvador Dali? Are they popular merely because most people pretend to like them, or fool themselves into adoration?
In this maze of subjectivity and surrealism, one objective measure stands out. Dali painted more than 1500 paintings in his lifetime. Assuming each painting took him 3 days, that represents about 15 years of painting everyday. Apart from paintings, he illustrated books, designed theatre sets, made numerous drawings, created dozens of sculptures and worked on several other projects including a collaboration with Walt Disney for an animated movie.
Behind every strange brush stroke of this man lay the weight of several decades of daily practice.
It isn’t Dali’s bizarre publicity stunts or his creation of a personality cult that I take away from this visit. It is his prodigious labour at cultivating his genius through decades of unforgiving daily practice.
And when that genius is translated on a canvas, it moves us.