Just What was Dali’s Preoccupation with ‘Soft’ & ‘Hard’ About?
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
The popular television game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” recently had a connection with none other than Salvador Dali. The German version of the show not long ago posed the question, “Whose body was exhumed last summer for a paternity test?”
I don’t know if the contestant answered the question correctly – his choices were Salvador Dali, Austrian singer Udo Jurgens, Frank Sinatra, and John F. Kennedy – but of course the answer was Dali.
As the world now knows, the test seems to have gone as flaccid as the piano and cello in Dali’s painting, “Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra.”
However, the woman who alleged she was Dali’s daughter – Pilar Abel of Madrid – has reportedly filed an appeal; the ruling isn’t final yet, I’m told. Although that test came back negative, it’s possible Ms. Abel still could be Dali’s daughter. This blog will report on the matter as further significant developments may unfold.
But it brings to mind the issue of Dali’s virility, or lack thereof. Was the great artist even capable of, well, performing sufficiently to impregnate anyone? Was Salvador Dali, in fact, impotent?
Dali himself made no bones about announcing that impotence was a key criteria for geniuses to be creative and produce great art. “Only when the sex works with extreeeeeeeme difficulty,” he said effusively in a video documentary of his life and work, can an artist achieve great things.
Was it mere coincidence, then, that a major leitmotif in Salvador Dali’s art was the interplay between the hard and the soft? This dichotomy appeared throughout his work. And in various photographs in which, for example, he was seen holding hard objects, or balancing them on his head, while also holding soft objects – even including a dolphin!
Indeed, consider his best-known work, “The Persistence of Memory.” Despite all the theories about what this iconic painting means, could it have been no more complicated than an expression of Dali’s preoccupation with the hard and the soft?
A pocket watch is hard. So Dali goes in the opposite direction – a tendency for which he had a stubborn penchant – and depicts it soft. Might this tiny masterpiece be nothing more than Dali revealing his own sexual preoccupations, anxieties, and inadequacies? What should be hard comes up soft.
And there you have it.
This limp, flaccid theme extended to countless works. Some of the phallic references are not only undeniable, but unabashedly blatant and kind of gross. An example is “The Enigma of William Tell.” To say that the figure’s hideously elongated buttock, held up by a crutch, is not intended to be in-your-face phallic is to be naïve. (It’s also undeniably humorous.)
And let’s consider the crutches themselves. What are they if not a means of “keeping things up.” Yes, there have been various other theories about the crutches’ meaning – Dali himself had written about their being a kind of metaphor for weak societies – but, again, to not also see them as pictorial manifestations of his focus on impotence is to miss an important point, I think.
Could this all be why Dali never had children?
In typical Dalinian style, Dali – when once asked why he had no kids – replied with a comparison. He pointed out that Picasso had children, and they ran wild in the streets. “Imagine,” Dali said, “what a child of Dali’s would be like!”