Sample Essay on The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory

Persistence of Memory is a famous painting by Salvador Dali; it has been instrumental in depicting how painting as an art can be used to convey message. This piece of art was created in 1931 and composed using oil on canvas; it is conspicuously hanged in the museum of Modern Art, New York. At a glance, the landscape portrayed is a barren landscape and on the top right corner is a canyon with an intense lake beside it. In addition, at the bottom is a creature lying with eyes closed, beside is something that looks like a desk and both are covered by melting clocks. Many artists have considered this masterpiece by Dali as one of those painting that provokes human illusions. They have opined that the art was meant to provoke human thought even when in a dream, time stops.

Art style

Surrealist is the style that Salvador employed in composing his painting. This is a style that was coined to help in exploring the notion that dreams and unconsciousness are forms of valid reality. It is believed that there was willingness to represent images of perverse sexuality, decay and violence and so this was the appropriate style. It is believed that this style gave Dali the opportunity to express drives such as hunger, sexuality, anger, fear, death, ecstasy among others. Four watches can be observed in the composition; three appear to be melting while one painted orange does not appear to be melting. Moreover, it sits on a desk-like object with ants looking to have gained interest to occupy its center.

Visual artists have opined that Dali sought to fulfill his desires and needs of mental and social life through a new style of art (Appajaiah and Giridhar Khasnis 65).He settled on the surrealist style that allowed him to fully express his desires and at the same time changed people’s view of art. As he gained more experience in this style of art, he began concentrating on the concept of psychoanalysis and increasingly shaped this concept into dreamlike illustrations. This can be conspicuously observed in the art where he depicts several clocks melting in a desert landscape. As a matter of fact, Salvador’s themes revolved around childhood sexual desires and the study of the unconscious mind as depicted in The Persistence of Memory art.

This painting has portrayed ideas to do with the interpretation of dreams and perception of reality that comes at the time of birth, death and sexual desire (Dickie George 24). Specifically, in this art the ants observed attacking the orange clock inherently points out to the anxiety that is associated with time, it has been pronounced that humans understand that one day they will have to die. This means that the psychology associate with understanding the reality of death may be significant in shaping behaviors. The melting watches portrayed in this art painting are a symbol of how time is irrelevant in life.

The strategy that Dali used in composing this piece of art was subverting the inherent textual properties that provided distinctions between hard and soft objects of the composition. This strategy ensured the softening of hard objects and hardening the soft objects that made the composition and in this reference, the melting watches symbolized mortality of ‘melting flesh’ or decay. He succeeded in providing a visual attempt that portrayed dreams, unconsciousness and hallucinations using formal elements of design. He used straight, curved and wavy lines to signify the imprecise boundaries of perceptions. It has been mentioned that different shapes were used to signify the moods and feelings that is experienced by the unconscious mind (Dickie George 32).According to some visual analysts the shapes representing the landscape have helped in providing mass and volume to the composition.

Theme and subject matter of the Painting

The major theme rendered in the painting is the perception experienced by humans in dreams or unconscious states (Dickie George 25). It is important to note that this piece of art express that time stops during dream or unconscious state. For instance, the brown creature has distinguishing features of an animal. Philosophers have pointed out it is extremely difficult to identify objects in a dream. As point of reference, it is impossible to identify this creature and hence affirming the position of Sigmund that human conscious speaks to us using symbolic languages.

It can be observed that the primary objects in the painting to support the theme and subject matter are the three melting clocks that represent the stopping of time or slowing down of time (DickieGeorge 32).

In his painting, Dali deliberately put ants on the orange clock that appear to be eating the clock; this represents the death of the clock, and the death of time. The message that is being communicated by Salvador is that when in an unconscious dream state time does not matter (Dickie George 46). This is an organic art since most of the objects used to compose the art are organic shapes for example, the creature and the melting watches. The audience is able to see the expression of the art as it seeks to express the inner familiarity in life.

Expression of the art and unique principles

A naturalistic expression can be observed in this artwork, this is because of the unwelcoming landscape that is exposed in the work. A beach can be observed in foreground section of the art and it stretches towards that background that eventually reaches out to what looks like an ocean of still water. Evidently, the mass of water reaches to the horizon line, a horizon that can be seen to be lacking features like clouds, birds and the sun (Eprile Tony 27). On the left section of the painting something that looks like a table can be observed with a creature in front.

The natural enlightenment of the painting simply points out to time of the day that is either late in the afternoon or early dawn. This is supported by that fact that the band of yellow lights nears the horizon and tells that the sun is just below the horizon, though the sun cannot be seen.

In natural expression of art, objects used to compose art are quite strange and in this case contributes to the mystery surrounding the landscape depicted. The first object observed in the art is a rectangular object that looks like a box and on top of it two watches sits. The audience can observe that one watch on the table seems to be grappling down. Ants are observed to be eating another watch as if it is organic or edible. There is a board near the edge of the water behind the tree though it is not clear why it is present in the art. Nevertheless, the animal despite looking edible does not show any sign of life and this confirms how surrealists used to merge human, vegetation and animal forms in single units to compose art.

The Persistence of Memory portrays the natural feeling in a dream and the strange collections of objects have the power to induce psychological feelings. In trying to understand the art, the audience must pass through the strange foreground to reach to the rich and serene background of the painting. The cliffs present on the background are beautiful but again do not show any form of life in addition to not showing any form of movement. The natural water is surely still, no waves and images reflected on the water to signify the lack of life.

It has been asserted that the artist employed principles of art perception with the emphasis being on the clocks that are scattered throughout the painting. This is meant to draw attention to the most important aspects of the painting by creating an illusion and impression that they are running out. It is believed that by Dali using shadows he has critically brought out the contrast between darkness and light. This has heavily brought the contrast on the illusion of life by giving the painting the distinguishable features that contrast life and death.

The painting has been symbolically perceived to be spreading a message that life lived by people is fast paced and full of choices that at times do not bring desirable outcomes. The silver watch hanging on the tree provides a perception of the time that recently passed while the one being fed on by the ant symbolize the time that the artist wanted to forget and the one on top of the white object indicates the current life that people are living. It is worth pointing out that the cracks seen on the mountains provide perception of obstacles that people have to go through in order to reach a desirable life full of happiness. It has been elaborated that the blue platforms in the painting symbolize the path to good and quality life whereas the dead tree represents mortality.

Generalized form and physicality of the work

This piece of art has been a symbol of Dali’s work and has been displayed in numerous galleries around the world, this oil painting measure 9 1/2 x 13 inches, or 24.1 x 33 cm and this forms the picture plane (McNeese Tim and Salvador Dalí 18). It has been pointed that the physicality of the painting is supported by the fact that it is a painting that was created out of blank canvas (McNeese Tim and Salvador Dalí 22). Every stroke of the paint brush had intention and therefore helping the audience to grasp message easily from the painting. For example, in this art when the audience observes the ants eating one of the clocks, they are assured that it had the intention of portraying the meaning of death of the clock (McNeese Tim and Salvador Dalí 27). The composition of the art contains blue light horizons that fade downward and across the top quarter of the painting above the skyline what appears to be a large lake, ocean can be seen.

It is observable that on the left of the composition Dali has placed a reflective, blue, elevated with a rectangular platform that has trimming around the edges (McNeese Tim and Salvador Dalí 34). A tree is observed to occupy the front part of the art, it is located atop the brown square object that covers the bottom of the composition and even goes off the canvas. Dali used several unconventional techniques to compose the work including the use of explosive charge to blast paint onto the canvas, cartridges containing inks and also his subconscious mind to create the work. The above materials are strategically present in the artwork and have been arrived at through process of paint creation.

In this painting, Dali has successfully brought out illusionist technique that has assisted in capturing the depth and dream imagery experienced by humans in the real world. This brings in illusionism of imagery that makes the work both mysterious and engaging through the use of multiple images that send numerous meanings. The illusionism created by the art has helped in creating a dream-like state by overlapping unrelated and random objects in an infrequent setting. To support this assertion are the landscape that appear to drift and move forever without an horizon, the watches that are metallic have created an illusion of contradiction when exploring the dream-like state as metals are indestructible. This piece of art therefore examines the subconscious world and the attempt to make humans aware of what lies beneath the real world. Foreshortening method of space ordering has been effectively used, this is supported by how the foreground is appearing to be darker compared to the background that appears bright and lively signifying good and quality life.

Positive and negative areas in the composition

It is ranted that areas in art represent spaces that are well defined by shapes and forms. It can be fulminated that there are two kinds of spaces, positive whose shapes and form exists and negative that are the empty spaces around shapes and forms (Salber Linde 35). In this artwork the positive areas are the clocks that are placed awkwardly to look like they are melting while the negative areas are the background that forms the shore, water and the raised land surface. These areas relate to the subject with the melting clocks signifying the fast paced life that people live while the still backgrounds signify the perceived feeling in the state of unconsciousness.

Dali was pursuing a theme of time stopping in dreamlike state or situation of unconscious and so the dominant areas are the four clocks that are scattered throughout the composition. The use of uneven space in the composition has contributed in making other areas to dominate others, the flat land masses, uniform ocean, linear tree and melted clocks have all been given different degree of dominance. Negative spaces have been used to create a total composition by using land masses, tree and the border of the ocean to provide depth and distance in the canvas.

Visual equilibrium and balance

Visual equilibrium is a concept of ordering objects in an artwork through giving emphasis to the most important aspects of the composition; it has been achieved through the use of both warm and cool colors in addition to vertical and horizontal lines. It can be noted that the upper part of the painting differs greatly from the lower part of the composition and the ordering process has enabled the emphasis to the middle part of the ground and the left side of the painting (Salber, Linde 41). The ordering process has also given more emphasis to the creature laying on the ground and the clocks on the table thus ensuring proportion. Rhythm and variety has been made possible through repetition of lines and spaces, the usage of the clocks throughout the painting and the use of similar colors.

However, it is worth noting that the artwork lacks variety because of the repetition of lines, shapes, colors and the objects in the composition (Dickie George 48). Balance has been achieved, the left side is pronounced since the eyes of the audience first see the colors, shapes and the objects while on the right side the frame is dominated by heavy black color and stone cliffs.


It has been ascertained that in his artwork Dali has effectively used straight, curved and wavy lines to assist in his composition (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge 23). This has effectively represented and symbolized the vague boundaries that always revolve around perceptions of the real world. The clocks presented on the art are curved to the extent of appearing to be melting and the curved lines have portrayed the creature to be on a dream state. The use of line to a more depth has effectively been used to express the feelings and the separation of time. As discussed above, lines have also been used to create equilibrium and balance of objects comprising the composition. Different intensities of lines have been used to achieve shading and foreshortening to distinguish the dark foreground and the bright background.


Shapes have been used to cement the explanations on the moods and feeling that are experienced by the unconscious mind or in a dream. These shapes are a mixture of symmetrical objects for example rectangular desk is seen to be supporting the tree and the planes above and below. This has been fused with other symmetrical objects and shapes to produce the sea, the non-symmetrical clocks and the creature on the ground. It is worth acknowledging that the presence of flat shapes have created illusions of three dimensional representation of art while the non-symmetrical shapes have expressed the nature of imagination against the reality in the unconscious mind.


Visual analysts have mentioned that there has been detailed use of value in the composition supported by the persistent shadows creating a world that has never been witnessed before (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge 55). It has been ascertained that thick values have been used to represent illusions and perceptions experienced on unconscious state. The detailed shading present on the clocks and the considerable use of color has given them the shiny effect, a value that is important in attracting attention. The mountain and cliffs have used a mixture of tenebrous light that resembles stage lighting in addition to a mixture of color to create the value style.

Consequently, ridges are shaded black, the ants are marked as black with little shading to attract the attention of the audience as they move across the artwork when viewing. Value has also been achieved to create the surface in which the creature is lying and the ocean with still water. It is worth pointing out that the heavy shading has served in providing the volume, size and mass of the creature that signifies a dream-like state. (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge 48).


The texture for the artwork is smooth as the artist has used thick paint and other textual features to attract the attention of the audience. It has been eluded that he painted a fairly flat texture on the canvas that has achieved uniformity. As believed by visual artists, texture has been technically achieved and implemented through the use of other elements like shapes, line and form and so it conveys a uniform feeling of the unconscious mind despite the different layers present on the painting. The function that texture performs in this artwork is to attract the attention of viewers to the most important aspects and objects of the composition (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge 84).The texture that is pronounced in this painting is that of smooth feeling, the blue platform appears to have a smooth reflective surface, the brown object appears to be smooth and the golden watch also has a smooth shiny surface.


Dali has used color scheme alongside shading to provide an amazing piece of art, the colors used are bright though they are saturated with darkness. In this art primary warm color of yellow, gold, black and brown have been used to provide a vivid composition of art. It is asserted by visual analysts that the mountains are a shade of yellow, along with a lot of what the sun touches in the painting. Additionally, it is pointed out that the clocks are gold, silver, and bronze and have a shine to them because of the color and shading. In this art, there are also cool colors including blue, white, and silver for the faces of the clocks, tree, the sky and water are all a blue tint, working with the warm colors to balance the painting (Dickie George 53). The mild colors have been used by the artist to reveal ideas and most pronounced are the blue and grey colors. These colors reveal the atmosphere of the dream or state of unconsciousness perfectly fine. The cliffs are represented in both bright yellow and grey colors contributing to the notion of how people feel when they are dreaming. The use of different colors has assisted in providing contrast thereby distinguishing the positive and negative areas of the composition.

Unity and harmony

It is understood that unity is one of the aspects that visual analysts look in for in a painting as it refers to the organization of a piece of composition (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge110).  In this piece of art unity has been successfully achieved as Dali uses repetition and harmony of the clocks by drawing them close to each other. He has also achieved unity by using colors that balances the contrast between blue and yellow. A good unity and balance has also been achieved by providing equilibrium in the positive and negative space. As pointed out earlier rhythm has been achieved through repeated lines and spaces, considerate use of colors has assisted in enhancing unity in this artwork. Objects have been evenly distributed to bring in contrast of the most and less important objects in the composition. It is believed that the artist has used unity economically to easily convey the message to his audience and viewers (Wollheim Richard and Richard Eldridge 86).




Works cited

Appajaiah, K S, and Giridhar Khasnis. The Persistence of Memory. New Delhi : Arushi Arts,


Dickie, George. Evaluating Art. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. Internet resource.

Eprile, Tony. The Persistence of Memory. New York: Norton, 2004. Print.

McNeese, Tim, and Salvador Dalí. Salvador Dali. New York, NY: Chelsea House Publishers,

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Salber, Linde. Dali. London: Haus Publ, 2004. Print.

Wollheim, Richard, and Richard T. Eldridge. Art and Its Objects: With Six Supplementary

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