Consecutive Days Riding: 99 Days Blogged: 93
New Mileage: 12 Total Trip Mileage: 763
As I climb on the bike this morning I am I thinking about the pilgrimage site we will be visiting today; The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg Florida. It represents the first time we have visited what I call an Artistic Site. You might ask how artwork or an entire art museum can represent a spiritual destination. One way in which artwork might meet this distinction would be if the art in question was of a religious nature, such as an exhibition of medieval church art or African tribal masks. The second way is that the site might display artwork that represents an artist’s spiritual journey. It might highlight transitions or changes in the artist’s work as they grappled with spiritual questions.
Today’s site represents this second approach as it highlights aspects of Dali’s unfolding spirituality. Dali is certainly an intriguing character and first gained fame prior to war II as a representative of the Surrealism movement in art. Surrealism is defining as a literary and artistic movement influenced by writer and poet Andre Breton and his interpretation of Sigmund Freud’s work on dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealistic artists, like Dali, attempted to paint the ‘reality’ of their dreams, which they saw as more ‘real’ than the reality of the everyday world. He is most famous for his works featuring melting time pieces and figures. A review of a Dali’s biography indicates that his artwork went through a number of shifts and changes. He started with the Impressionist and Cubist styles then joined the Surrealist movement. He had a falling out with Breton and other surrealist painters before moving to the United States from Europe to avoid World War II. It was at this time that he entered what would be called his “classical period.” He began a series of 19 large canvases, many of them focused on scientific, historical or religious themes. Shortly after returning to Europe in the late 1940s he announced his conversion to Catholicism and promised: “My paintings in the future will be an amalgam of my Surrealist experience and the classicism of the Pre-Raphaelites and Renaissance.”
I was unable to find specific references to the reason for this transformation in his personal life, however, I suspect that he, like many artists and writers, struggled to “make sense” of the world after World War II. The devastation of Europe and the Holocaust had a profound effect on many people. Questions about the meaning of life lead some people to even question whether God existed or was in fact “dead.” Others return to their church roots and/or became fascinated with the proliferation of new scientific discoveries. One biographer noted that that Dali showed a particular interest in the area of nuclear physics, perhaps struck by the power of the atom and the nuclear bombs that fell upon Japan. His interest in science is evidenced by his painting honoring Crick and Watson, the founders of DNA. His shift to religious themes is evidenced by his paintings: “Temptations of St. Anthony,” or “Christ of Saint John of the Cross,” or the “Last Supper.” There was some evidence of religious conflict as seen in his drawing: “Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother,” where he painted the words over an outline of the Christ of the Sacred Heart.
Like many artists and writers I get questions from people about the creative process, where it comes from and what role it can play in our life. I see the creative process as a powerful spiritual process. Our creative efforts can be a representation of what we already believe, where our beliefs guide the process of choosing and creating symbols. At other times the process of discovery guides the unfolding artwork and the artist can be just as shocked and awed, as any viewer, at the symbolic outcome. I’ve had people look at my artwork and excitedly proclaim what they see; I often smile and thank them for their observation, because now I see more complexity and more meaning in the work myself.
I suspect that Salvador Dali’s work falls into both of these categories. Some are likely reflections of his conversion to Catholicism, while others reflect his personal process of discovery and may act as a mirror for the viewer to conduct their own personal exploration. I suspect that really good art does both. You may see what you already know and feel comfortable with, or you may see new things that raise questions and open doors onto a new reality. The creative process, like any pilgrimage or journey, has the potential to inspire and clarify as well as the potential to raise disquieting questions and undermine our belief system. If all life is a journey, we have no choice but to live it, to continue our process of discovery!