Dalí’s Simulation of Paranoia Secret to his Magic

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dalí Historian


Can you name one of the most important keys to Salvador Dalí’s genius? Something the average Dalí aficionado probably doesn’t know about? Something intangible yet widely considered among scholars to be of enormous consequence in the ability of Salvador Dalí to create so many extraordinary paintings, prints, drawings and works in other media?


What I’m talking about is exceptional. Exclusive to Salvador Dalí. And a major secret to his magic.


I’m referring to Dalí’s unique Paranoiac-Critical Method. It was a creative technique that enabled the artist to see in ways few others could.


The way Dalí himself described his Paranoiac-Critical Method was typically inscrutable and confounding: “a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena.”


Now that’s a mouthful! Fortunately, Dalí experts Dawn Ades and Fiona Bradley, in their book, Dalí – A Mythology (SDM Editions, 1998) boiled it down into terms easily understood. They noted that Salvador Dalí had an interest in the clinical condition of paranoia “as a means of destabilizing the interpretation of visual clues.”


But it’s these five words they wrote that may be most helpful in understanding Dalí’s Paranoiac-Critical Method: Dalí’s “controlled simulation of paranoid vision.”


This is one of the best – and briefest – explanations of this very special creative technique I’ve ever come across. Dalí was able to simulate paranoid visions, but in a controlled, deliberate manner – then take those paranoid visions, which often involved the appearance of double-images, and transfer them methodically and carefully to canvas. That was the “critical” element of the Paranoaic-Critical Method.


The one painting I find the most impressive, of the many Dalí did that were the result of this unprecedented method of seeing in new ways, was his huge Hallucinogenic Toreador of 1970 (Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). The story has been told many times of how Dalí happened into a store to buy a box of Venus de Milo-brand drawing pencils.


On the cover of the pencil box was the image of the famous Greek statute of Venus de Milo – ordinary to everyone else, extraordinary to Dalí. Because his ability to simulate the state of paranoia led to a vision others would simply be incapable of having. In this case, he saw in the breast and abdomen of the Venus figure what appeared to be the image of a nose and lips.

three venus the-hallucinogenic-toreador-1



This very sighting was the genesis of what some consider Dalí’s single greatest work. This is one of those phenomena where now it’s virtually impossible to look at that pencil box cover and not see what Dalí saw.


Salvador Dalí http:/www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

A simple pencil box inspired a legendary masterpiece, thanks to Salvador Dalí’s Paranoiac-Critical Method. No wonder that, years back, a local St. Petersburg TV station produced a documentary titled “You, Sir, Are a Genius.” You’ll get no argument from me.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)