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"He just manages to find the buttons to push."

So said Philadelphia Art Museum curator Michael Taylor in a discussion of Salvador Dali:

"He's so perverse and shocking and outrageous, and he gets people's knickers in a twist," Taylor commented. "He just manages to find the buttons to push."
That is certainly true. The number of people who continue to hate Salvador Dali never ceases to amaze me. Every new generation that finds its way into art school is taught new reasons to hate him. A leading Dali dealer I know told me how much it amuses him to see young Dali fans who start out liking him, only to "learn" that they're not supposed to like him when they get to college and grow in sophistication. (It must gall the high priests of art to see Dali's work continuing to draw larger crowds than they think proper.)

Not that there weren't plenty of reasons to hate Dali in the old days. Not only was he called a Nazi supporter (an absurd idea I've discussed previously), but he was slammed as an atomic war lover in the Soviet Encyclopedia:

"If one is to believe the Bolshaya Sovetskaya Entsyclopedia (vol. 41, the article "Surrealism"), then 'the well-known representative of surrealism--the painter Salvador Dali--paints pictures extoling atomic war'. This is succinctly and expressively stated, but unfortunately it does not quite correspond to the truth. Dali does not extol any kind of war, and in general he neither extols nor passes judgment on anything. Salvador Dali, as is true of all surrealism, is a considerably more complicated phenomenon, although both are completely in conformity with the development of Western art. I don't intend to examine in detail the essence of this phenomenon, the ancestor of which is unquestionably Freud and his cult of the subconscious. I would only like to consider why museums and exhibitions which display abstract art are almost always empty, whereas there are always large crowds in front of Dali's paintings..."
And the large crowds just won't go away. Must be galling for those who teach college kids that the drippings of Jackson Pollock are infinitely superior.

As button-pusher extraordinaire, Dali even managed to push the buttons of the great George Orwell himself, who condemned Dali in the strongest terms imaginable:

...in this long book of 400 quarto pages there is more than I have indicated, but I do not think that I have given an unfair account of his moral atmosphere and mental scenery. It is a book that stinks. If it were possible for a book to give a physical stink off its pages, this one would--a thought that might please Dali, who before wooing his future wife for the first time rubbed himself all over with an ointment made of goat's dung boiled up in fish glue. But against this has to be set the fact that Dali is a draughtsman of very exceptional gifts. He is also, to judge by the minuteness and the sureness of his drawings, a very hard worker. He is an exhibitionist and a careerist, but he is not a fraud. He has fifty times more talent than most of the people who would denounce his morals and jeer at his paintings. And these two sets of facts, taken together, raise a question which for lack of any basis of agreement seldom gets a real discussion.

The point is that you have here a direct, unmistakable assault on sanity and decency; and even--since some of Dali's pictures would tend to poison the imagination like a pornographic postcard--on life itself. What Dali has done and what he has imagined is debatable, but in his outlook, his character, the bedrock decency of a human being does not exist. He is as anti-social as a flea. Clearly, such people are undesirable, and a society in which they can flourish has something wrong with it.

I'd almost swear Orwell doesn't like Dali very much.

Which is interesting, because there's no indication that the two ever met. Orwell (a favorite writer of mine) died in 1950. He tended to change his mind, though, and he might have revised his thinking had he known that Dali was also known for reversing his positions, eventually coming to fancy himself a savior "destined for nothing less than to rescue painting from the void of modern art."

Dali died in 1989, and he's my favorite artist. His personal character is about as relevant to whether I like his art as the character of Jerry Garcia (my favorite musician) is to my appreciation of his music. You either like someone's art or you don't.

Either way, I guess there's a tendency of button pushing all the way around.

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