As my first post, I have chosen to interpret, describe a surrealist painting by Salvador Dali called "Dream cause by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening". A short alternate title for the painting is "A second before awakening". As you all know, I am not only a music fan or musician, but I admire ART itself. This composition was painted in 1944, by Dali and his wife Gala while living in America. Dali became one of my favorite painters while learning about art throughout my life; I have enjoyed his great work for several years now. I will like to provide some background about his life and education before analyzing this painting, in the attempt to obtain a better understanding of what he really means behind this very interesting composition.
Salvador Dali was born in Figueres, Spain on May 11, 1904. He was a prominent Spanish Catalan painter and a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters; he often referred to Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez as a brilliant painter. As an art student in Madrid and Barcelona, Dali assimilated a number of artistic styles and displayed an unusual technical facility as a painter. But it was until the late 1920's that two events brought about the development of his mature artistic style. His discovery of Sigmund Freud's writing on the erotic significance of subconscious imagery, and his affiliation with the Paris Surrealist, a group of artist who wanted to establish a "greater reality" of man's subconscious over his reason.
After he developed this method, his painting style matured rapidly, and produced paintings which made him the world's best-known surrealist artist. He describes a dream world in which commonplace objects are contrasted, deformed, or even metamorphosed in a bizarre and irrational fashion. He described these objects in fine detail and usually placed them without pleasant features, sunlit landscapes that were reminiscent of his Catalonian homeland. In the late 1930's Dali switched to painting in a more academic style under the influence of the Renaissance painter Raphael, and as a consequence he was expelled from the Surrealist movement. Thereafter he spent much time designing theater sets, interiors of fashionable shops, and jewelry, as well as exhibiting his genius for flamboyant self-promotional stunts in the United States, where he lived from 1940 to 1955.
Around this time when Dali "hand-painted dream photograph" - as he generally called his paintings - "Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate a second before awakening". Obviously we can't review this painting with a purist or formalist doctrine, since it's full of symbols and subliminal messages. If we follow this doctrine we could lose the true meaning of the painting as Nelson Goodman mentions in his "When is Art?" essay. Goodman describes that the objects in a painting will possess some of the properties to what they refer to, but will also carry others outside the painting. In this case, we must review the objects depicted with their literal aspects, but also take in consideration that is a dream (imaginative worlds).
In the painting we find a seascape of distant horizons and calm waters, which Gala (his wife) is the subject of the scene. Next to the uncovered body of the sleeping woman, which levitates above a flat rock that floats above the sea, Dali depicts two suspended droplets of water and a pomegranate, a Christian symbol to signify eternal life or resurrection of the soul. Probably also based on the Greek myth of Persephone returning from the underworld, often associated with the Virgin Mary. The pomegranate is also a symbol of fertility owing to its many seeds. In a purist doctrine, a pomegranate is just a pomegranate. It happened to be just a fruit available, or its color worked well in the composition. But I think in this case, lush fertility is the intended meaning, or even a warning against lust.
Above the pomegranate flies a bee, an insect that traditionally symbolizes communal industriousness and unceasing energy and toil as mentioned by Hope B. Werness in his book "The continuum encyclopedia of Animal symbolism Art (Pg.38). They also can carry a spiritual dimension as taken in individual perspective, a universal quickening power between Heaven and Earth (material and spiritual). In the upper left of the painting a fish burst out of the pomegranate, and in turn spews out a tiger that then spews out another tiger and a bayonet. A second later the bayonet will sting Gala in the arm.
The symbolic meaning of the fish found in the "Dreams Dictionary", describe them as deep emotional connections that underpin our relationships. They also link to strong urges and motivations that are pushing us in new directions. This bring us to the fish pushing the Tiger and the bayonet towards the direction of Gala, with the intention or motivation of awakening her. The bayonet is used as a symbol of the stinging bee, may represent the woman's sudden awakening from her otherwise peaceful dream. This is an example of Sigmund Freud's influence on surrealist art and Dali's attempts to explore the world of dreams in a dreamscape. The two tigers represent the body of the bee (yellow with black stripes) causing intimidation, danger and fear to the uncovered woman; the bayonet its stinger of the bee. The fish may also represent the bee's eyes if one links everything together, because of the similarity of the fish's scaly skin with the scaly complex eyes of bees.
Above them an elephant with long flamingo legs, found in other compositions of the period such as Dali's "The temptations of St. Anthony" that carries an obelisk on its back. It has also been used in Benini's Elephant and Obelisk in the Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. Traditionally, the symbolic meaning of the elephant deals primarily with strength, honor, stability and patience, among other attributes. To the Hindu way of thought, the elephant is found in the form of Ganesha who is the god of luck, fortune, protection and is a blessing upon all new projects. As a dream animal, elephants come into our dreams it as message that we are able to deal with any obstacle we are faced with at this time. Dream elephants represent power, sovereignty, stability, and stead-fastness. This can be interpreted as part of her pleasant dream, where all this attributes of the elephant play a big part of the "Aura" (feel) of the dream when she felt secure right before the fish and the tigers appeared to her.
Now that every object depicted in this composition has been analyzed, it is easier to connect all the pieces together and appreciate or capture some of the messages that the artist intended for the viewer. Before analyzing everything in depth, the image had no true meaning in particular. What I was looking at before was an uncovered woman having a weird dream, being woken up by lions, a giant fish and a bayonet. The remaining objects made so sense at the time, and it was hard to fully grasp what was really going on.
In 1962, Dali said that his painting were intended "to express for the first time in images Freud's discovery of the typical dream with a lengthy narrative, the consequence of the instantaneousness of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up". Thus, as a bar might fall on the neck of a sleeping person, causing them to wake up and for a long dream to end with the guillotine blade falling on them, the noise of the bee here provokes the sensation of the sting which will awaken Gala from her pleasant, pure and none erotic dream. The guillotine anecdote refers to a dream reported by Alfred Maury in "Le sommeil et les reves" and related by Freud in "The Interpretation of Dreams".
It has also been suggested that the painting is "a surrealist interpretation of the Theory of Evolution". I can see why this idea emerged and because somewhat popular. If we explore the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH), which provides us with an alternative explanation of some characteristics of human evolution implying that the common ancestors of modern humans spent a period of time adapting to life in a partially aquatic environment proposed in 1942 (two years before Dali's painting was released) by Desmond Morris, and expanded in 1960 by the writer Elaine Morgan, who spent more than forty years discussing the AAH. We can see that the painting take a whole different meaning; it ca be interpreted as when life started with bacteria and minerals found in water. Plants where created (pomegranate) and then fish came along, years later it came out of the ocean to grow feet and lose the fins and evolve into a mammal (ape), which in this case we have two lions, and us to the final evolution as a human. But I don't think that was Dali's intention in any way, since his main focus was people's dreams inspired by Freud's explanations of the subconscious mind.
We can learn a lot from this, and we should listen to music the same way. Explore the different dimensions that the artist is trying to take us, and find our own true meaning to them.