What Can The Persistence Of Memory Tell Us?

Updated July 03, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Source: flickr.com

The Persistence of Memory is one of those paintings that is universally recognized regardless of who you are. Even if you may not be familiar with the name, you have more than likely seen the painting. In this post, we will dive into the history of the Persistence of Memory and explain the hidden meanings behind it.

What Is The Persistence Of Memory?

The Persistence of Memory is a painting by Salvador Dali, created in 1931. The painting depicts a surreal landscape, where melting clocks are everywhere. Some people may think of the painting as just being called "Melting Clocks," but that's not the case. The Persistence of memory was revealed in 1932 at the Julien Levy Gallery and then was moved to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, where it has resided ever since. An anonymous source in 1934 donated it. The painting is one of the more popular paintings of the 21st century.

There is another version of this painting as well. In 1954, Dali remade the painting with another version, called The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. In this painting, it depicts the melting clocks, while breaking them down into fragments. The painting is filled with rectangular blocks, almost creating a 3D effect, and between the gaps of the blocks, you can see more clocks. It's almost like Dali is saying that there's something hidden behind the surface of the original painting. The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory is found in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Dali also did sculptures of the Persistence of Memory as well. You may recognize the original painting, but you may not have realized just how many variations of the painting there are.

It should be noted that the painting is quite small in size. If you look at it in a museum, you may notice that it's the size of a piece of notebook paper. It's not like some paintings that are large. This makes it even more impressive due to the lack of space that Dali had to work with.

The Clocks

Source: flickr.com

Now, let's break down the symbolism of the painting, starting with the melting clocks. They are in the form of watches. What does it mean when the clocks are melting? Does it mean that time just melts away, and flies by faster than we would think?

There are a few theories on what the clocks mean. These include:

  • How space and time work. During the time of the painting, our understanding of the world was changing. There were fewer assumptions that the universe was fixed and structured, and more evidence of the chaos that makes up our world. The soft watches seem to symbolize that. According to the interpretation this has, it seems to be looking at Einstein's theory of relativity.
  • How much technology has changed in Dali's lifetime? Dali was born in 1904. During his lifetime, he saw the rise of the automobile, movie theaters, radio, advanced warfare, and the list goes on. It does make sense that Dali would depict the changing technology as a clock that keeps melting. He blinked, and there would be something new.
  • Some say the melting of the clocks was inspired by cheese Dali saw melting. Instead of cheese, he turned it into clocks, and that's been the story ever since.
  • In the bottom left, you'll notice an orange clock covered with black dots. Those black dots are ants. In Dali's paintings, he would use ants as a way to show decay. Perhaps Dali was showing how time breaks down. This also shows imagery we may find in a dream, such as bugs.
  • There are three melting clocks. Why is that? Some may say that it symbolizes the past, the present, and the future. How you observe them can change over time, thus the meeting. The pocket watch could be how time objectively is, but with all the ants over its objectivity is a decaying thing.
The Face

One of the watches is melting over a white object. At first, it appears to be a meaningless lump. However, upon closer examination, you may notice that it almost looks like a face. Especially if you look at it sideways. You can see the eyelashes of a closed eye, a nose, and other abstract shapes. This creature is used in a lot of Dali's paintings, and it's his self-portrait if you will. The creature almost looks like it's fading, and you could look at it in many ways, including:

· The meaningless form you find in a dream. You may see it as something you cannot grasp. The creature itself's closed eye seems to symbolize the state of a dream.

· The face could be the dreamer itself, and the clocks can be how time seems meaningless when you're in a dream. You may look at a dream as something where time just keeps passing, or you may look at in a complete standstill.

· The face may look like an embryo for some, and you may look at it as birth itself. With the clock over it, it symbolizes how there is no sense of time when you're an embryo.

· It could be symbolizing metamorphosis. The face, along with the melting clocks, could be talking about a change one is going through. Many of us will go through transformations in our life, and the odd melting sensation of the painting can symbolize the awkward transition between two stages. We all have been through it, and it's how we handle a metamorphosis that tells us a lot about us.


The Landscape

Now, let's look at the landscape itself. Branches, rocks, and other landmarks make this painting quite pretty in nature. If you look to the right, you will see some craggy rocks. These are a part of a peninsula known as the Cap de Creus, which is located in the northeastern part of California. Dali's locations inspire these landscapes. Also, the shadow that looms over everything could be a mountain. Or, it could also be the sun passing by, symbolizing the passage of time.

Source: pixabay.com

The ground appears to be sand. You may think of this as a filler, but you can look at it as the sands of time if you will. The sand that trickles down in an hourglass is quite symbolic of the passage of time.

Far away, you may notice a white object on the ground. It's near the shore, and it can be hard to notice unless someone points it out to you. For some people, that object is an egg. The egg can be a symbol of life, and like the egg, it can persist. The egg is a hard object as well, and Dali loved hard and soft objects.

One of the clocks is hanging by a branch. The branch is broken, and some may say that it's an olive tree. The olive tree is seen as a symbol of wisdom, but with it broken, it brings forth the decline of what we view as ancient wisdom. Also, a branch is peaceful, and a broken branch could be a symbol of wartime. During the 1930s, the political climate was nothing but war, so it makes sense why Dali would include this.

Finally, there is an ocean nearby as well. This ocean can symbolize timelessness. Many things in our life change, but some things are universal, such as the ocean.

It's All Up To Interpretation

There are many theories as to what the painting can mean. With any good piece of art, you can enjoy it on its own, or make your interpretation as to what the painting could mean.

No matter what you do, the Persistence of Time is a painting that can explain a lot about the state of the world. In your life, time does seem to melt. You're a child, and then you blink, and you're working in some job. Time is valuable, abstract, and it can be subjective for everyone.

Regardless of your interpretation of the painting, The Persistence of Time has been a persistent painting for a good reason. It's gorgeous, and a person could interpret a lot from it. What is your interpretation of the painting? What is your opinion on the concept of time? This painting could raise these questions the more you look at it.

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Source: flickr.com

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does persistence of memory mean?
Persistence of memory is a painting by Salvador Dali, which depicts a form of Surrealism. In 1931, Salvador Dali created paintings that depicted images appearing to be of melting clocks. Different theories have been posited regarding the persistence of memory painting, some of which include the relationship between the past, present and future. Another theory also claims these work of art means the continuous change that occurs in reality between space and time. The persistence of memory was also theorized to mean the different changes in technology during the life of Salvador Dali.

Why is Persistence of Memory important?
Like any Surrealist works, surrealism which was a 20th century movement of artists and writers who used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams, Persistence of memory is important that it attempts to examine the subconscious world and also take a dive into human psychology. Dali’s art always attempts to see beyond what is being seen and try to see what is underneath.      

What is the white thing in the persistence of memory?
On the brown ground in the Persistence of memory is a human-like white figure with eye lashes and moustache – a seeming representation of Salvador Dali’s moustache. Some even argue that the white thing in the painting is what attracts attention to the work of art as it depicts a self-portrait of Salvador Dali.

How much is the Persistence of memory worth?
According to Live Auctioneers, the persistence of memory painting is worth as much as $15,000.00 which will come with an original dated receipt of January 1987.

Where is the persistence of memory?
The Museum of Modern Art in New York houses the persistence of memory since 1934 and it has been there to this present day. The museum received the painting by an anonymous donor after it was displayed in the Jullien Levy Gallery in 1932.

What techniques were used in the persistence of memory?
The technique used for this painting is the oil on canvas. Oil on canvas painting allows artists to use oil based paints to create work of art on canvas boards. Oil paints allows for much needed flexibility color. Many times, Dali has described his art works as “hand painted dream photographs”. The persistence of memory painting which measures 24.1 x 33 cm, contains a slowly fading blue to yellow color downwards from the horizon. A body of water sits calmly under the skyline, intersecting at the top of the mountains. A single branch from a lifeless tree holds a pocket watch which illustrates a sort of melting process on the end of the branch as it shows numbers three to nine. A brown object at the bottom left corner goes off the canvas. On the light brown square object which looks like a desk, is the tree. Two other pocket watches are also located on the brown object.

On the left, close to the water, Dali places a reflective blue, elevated rectangular platform with dark brown trimming around the edges. There are two more pockets watches on the object. One hand is on five of seven with a fly near the 1:00 mark. The other hand of the pocket watch is hanging off a brown cube. The outside of the pocket watch has a congregation of black ants, and the white thing which is a description of Dali’s trademark lips, moustache and large eyelashes is also seen. The Persistence of Memory also employs basic elements of art such as lines, shapes, and colors to portray its surrealism. Also these warm colors as seen in the persistence of memory are particularly dark and saturated illustrating the ambience between light and darkness. In terms of texture, the painting centers on touch and sight as Dali tries to deepen the ocular experience.

What is the theme of persistence of memory?
Just like Dali placed a picture of himself as a child at the center of his “First Day of Spring” painting, as Sigmund Freud proposed that people’s fears and desires can be linked or associated with their experiences from childhood, Persistence of memory painting illustrates that the concept of time is meaningless in an unconscious world – a relativity between space and time.

What is the subject matter of the persistence of memory?

In Dali’s 1941 painting - The Faces of War which he painted between the end of the Spanish Civil War and beginning of Second World War, Dali posited that even during his fantasies, he has never gone a minute without the anguish of death lurking down in his mind. Similarly, in Persistence of memory, the painting depicts the nexus between unconscious relativity of space and time, most likely a dream Dali himself had experienced as theorized to mean the continuous change in time in relation between the past, present and the future. Time is relative and can be said to have different meanings to different people depending on individual’s life’s journeys.

If you are having trouble with managing time, don't waste it. Your time can melt away before you know it, just like the clocks in The Persistence of Time. If you want to learn how to manage the time you do have, talk to a therapist. A therapist can set you some goals based on your mentality and allow you to get to work. If you believe that your goals can be met, talk to a therapist today and get to planning.

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