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Video transcript

at the Museum of Modern Art there is this tiny painting by Salvador Dali which is the painting that everybody wants to say that and starry night by Van Gogh are the two stars and I thought it would be really interesting to talk about why this painting is so wildly popular so this is the persistence of memory by Salvador Dali and here I understand why people kind of connect to it now I mean any anybody who's ever tried to make an album for a rock band it is inspired by Salvador Dali there's also this kind of fun of what are you looking at is really playing with reality you know it's kind of like a visual brain teaser is that it is it so popular is it on album cover art because it's this attack on the rational and that's such a seductive idea yeah it's mind trippy I like the way you phrase attack on the rational I am I mean I guess like there might be more to it that's my sense you know you were talking about album cover art and posters on you know maybe a dorm room and what's interesting is that these artists took these ideas really seriously this was surrealism this was painted in 1931 Dali the Spanish artist this Catalan artist had just come to Paris and had joined the surrealist group that was zooming he's considered significant because he was the first person to essentially do dreamscapes and these as you mentioned attack all the rationale when you walk in to this painting and visually you enter into this really deep open and lonely space and it's this really quiet image yeah it's kind of this desert scape ignoring the melted clocks for a moment you feel that okay if you were in this landscape yes time really does not really carry a lot of weight you could just kind of wither there and die and no one would care even that kind of water in the background there's no waves in it it's like they've had time to settle down there's literally no activity there's this unbearable sense of quiet there is almost no movement and I think it does feel very desert like and very hot literally time has melted right but we have this absurd environment we do have this very naturalistic rendering but the things that are being rendered are not naturalistic at all you mentioned the dead tree on the left but it's growing out of something that seems clearly man-made or at least geometric a tabletop perhaps you have ants that seemed to be eating and attracted to a piece of metal as opposed to a piece of rotted flesh oh that's what that is I couldn't I couldn't fully make it out okay so they're eating away at a tiny piece that's fascinating and of course you have the drooping clocks and that's such an interesting evocative idea because time is something that is so regiment it's time is something that rules us that is so associated with the industrial culture that we live in and here it responds to the environment as we respond to the environment well one you have that tabletop and there's another one in the background and even the way that the light is set up especially in that cliff it looks like it's sunset so it's kind of like pages another day is past who cares now there are some identifiable things I mean for all of the absurdity and for all of the impossibility of what we're seeing there are some things that our historians have recognized the cliffs in the back are we think the cliffs of the Catalonian coast in northern Spain were dahlias from and so this is his childhood perhaps some art historians have concluded that that strange figure almost a profile face can you just make out an eye with extremely long lashes and perhaps a tongue under nose this is the whole optical illusion part of Sababa yet I thought it was like a blanket but now I completely see of the eyelashes I thought it was a duck for a second - I see the eyelashes and the top of a nose yeah Dulli does that funny thing where one object can actually be several things at once sometimes really convincingly some art historians think this is his face but elusive and very much a kind of dream well I mean that goes back in the category of is that this is more of that kind of formal optical illusion type art well that's right surrealism posited that the rational world that we have so much faith in was perhaps not worthy of all of that faith that the irrational was just as important but was something that we had sublimated something that we had tried to drive out of our life and the way that these artists and writers thought about it was if only they could retrieve the world of the dream some of the artists have read Freud some of them had only heard some secondhand accounts of Freud but the idea that the dream was a place where the irrational mind came to the fore unrestricted this is something I guess off often confronts me is even the notions that how we perceive what we think is objective reality is really based on how our brain is wired me we see these causes and effects we see linear time this is how humans are wired I mean I think that's what's fun about these type of things that kind of said well you know look there's different forms of reality and who are we as as creatures that are wired one particular way to be to be all that judgmental about what's real when people have looked at this painting they have sometimes and I think unconvincingly tried to link it to Feinstein's earlier ideas of the dilation exactly and the time was not in fact a strict thing but I think there's more evidence that Dali is thinking about ideas of a philosopher whose name is Bergson who thought about time as something that was not simply what struck on a clock but that there was a kind of human time that was more subjective and that expanded and contracted according to our experience times this thing that sometimes scares us because we completely don't understand it even though some kind of the most fundamental component of our existence we fundamentally don't understand it if we try to measure it out we try to constrain it define it it's some way that makes sense to us yeah actually I think that's what this piece is may be trying to do is that's like like these clocks are stupid these are just our futile attempts to try to label it's kind of like if you label something or if you measure something you feel like you actually understand it even though you don't think this is that moment when all those safe ideas of objectivity are being blown out of the water and we're seeing an art that is in some really interesting ways confronting that you