Salvador Dali: How To Become An Iconic Creator
In this 1958 interview clip, Salvador Dali says something both fascinating and surprising…
His proudest achievement is not a specific painting. It’s not even painting in general. It’s actually himself. His being. His personality.
While this may seem like a small detail, it says a lot about what helped him become one of the great artists of the 20th century. And it says a lot about what we can all do in order to develop an iconic voice as a thought leader.
Let’s unpack the interview in order to extract the hidden lesson…
The Most Insightful, Bizarre, And Funny Clips From The Interview
This back-and-forth between Dali and the late Michael Wallace is particularly eye-opening:
DALI: "The most important in my life, more [than being] a clown, more [than] painting, more [than] my draftsmanship, is my personality. My personality is more important than every [one] of these little facets of my activity."
WALLACE: "In other words, what is most important to you is expressing Dali?”
DALI: "The painting, the clowning, the showmanship, the technique—everything is only one manner for express[ing] the total personality of Dali."
Later in the interview, there's another insightful, albeit puzzling, back-and-forth where Dali shares who he wanted to be growing up:
WALLACE: “What do you enjoy doing most?”
DALI: “I think, the most joy[ful], the most delightful is becoming every day a little more Dali.”
WALLACE: “First you wanted to be a cook and then you wanted to be Napoleon?”
DALI: “One woman cooking, you know?”
WALLACE: “You wanted to be a woman cooking?”
DALI: “Exactly. Second, [I] like[d] becoming Napoleon. A later on, [I] like[d] becoming Dali. Now [it] is every day more Dali.”
Finally, the interview ends with a Dali quote that somehow seems perfectly fitting for the bizarre interview:
I cannot understand why human beings should be so little individualized, why they should behave with such great collective uniformity. I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I'm never served a cooked telephone.
So what do we make of Dali from this interview?
Is he crazy?
Is he full of himself?
Is he just putting on an act?
Is he actually a genius?
As I watched the interview over and over, I came away with a very different message that has fundamentally transformed how I approach thought leadership…
“Every painter paints the cosmogony of himself.”
The following back-and-forth captures the core lesson I personally take away…
WALLACE: “What does any painter contribute to the world and to his fellow man?”
DALI: “Every painter paints the cosmogony of himself.”
When a painter paints a tree, they are really painting themselves. In other words, they are painting what they uniquely perceive and experience. There is no one who would create a painting of the same tree exactly like they would.
It’s kind of like the famous parable of scientists touching different parts of an elephant and coming to different conclusions about what the elephant is. They are all touching the same thing, the elephant, but because they have different perspectives, they have different ways of describing the elephant.
Similarly, when a novelist creates fiction, they are also sharing themselves. Hence the quote:
All fiction is largely autobiographical.
In other words, the novelist is creating imaginary stories, imaginary characters, and imaginary worlds, but all of these imaginary things come from the mind of the writer. Therefore, they are unique to that specific writer.
And finally, when a thought leader shares an idea, they too are sharing themselves. Because an idea is the ultimate compression of a thousand uniquely personal decisions:
The life experiences
The research approach
The synthesis approach
The medium, format, style, and tone of expression
The platform chosen to express the idea on
The purpose and values for creating the work
The amount of time spent on creation
The skills brought to bear
With these examples, we can better understand Dali. More specifically, we can understand why the ultimate thing that any creator contributes is themselves, not their work.
Summary: For many years, I tried to remove myself from my writing, because I didn’t want to distract from the core idea. I wanted the idea to stand alone.
But, now I realize that this approach was wrong.
An idea cannot be separated from its creator any more than we can be separated from our body and still be alive.
Knowing what I know now, I view it like this:
There has never been someone exactly like us (same DNA and same experiences).
Being a great creator is valuing and expressing our own uniqueness.
It is about creating things that no one else could rather than conforming.
When we share our unique point of view in our unique way, then we add to the collective tapestry and wisdom of human experience. In so doing, we create something that is permanent and much larger than us.
So, now the question becomes, what specific tactics can we use in order to become an iconic creator?
After studying many answers to this question and constantly experimenting, here’s what has worked best for me…