How to Harness Creativity (the Salvador Dalí Way)

salvador dali painting figures

In recent years, scientific studies have revealed the health-related benefits to making and experiencing art, including improved literacy, increased brain connectivity, and creative thinking, which is perhaps the most valuable of all. One of the best-known artists to successfully tap into the brain’s creative output was none other than Salvador Dalí. Dalí, a prominent Spanish surrealist, is recognized for his signature style, which combined vivid imagery and objects in his compositions in unexpected ways.

Dalí’s works embody the principles of surrealism, a movement which sought to uncover the creative potential of the unconscious mind, often by depicting paradoxical imagery. The Persistence of Memory (1931), with its unique subject matter and ethereal atmosphere, is perhaps one of the best-known works to emerge from the surrealist movement. Today, works by the artist achieve lofty figures at auction, with original paintings and sculptures selling for millions of dollars.

His quirky, relentless imagination and persistence in exploring new approaches to art helped shape his extraordinary legacy. By emulating his ability to harness creativity and translate these skills into successful paths, there is much we can learn from Salvador Dalí’s artistic process.

6 Ways to Harness Creativity the Dalí Way

Salvador Dali, “Swans Reflecting Elephants,” 1937. Image via Flickr.

Salvador Dalí was fascinated by images that appeared to him between states of sleep and wakefulness. These images proved to be extremely vivid, colorful, and bizarre. One of his most leveraged techniques for capturing these images is what he referred to as “slumber with a key.” This tactic required a very brief nap—less than a second long—and was used to channel the fluid space between wakefulness and sleep.

During the momentary state of sleep, sensations and perceptions of the day would return as hypnagogic (dreamlike) images. He would often encourage others to try the method, claiming it brought visual inspiration and necessary rest. Aside from the hypnagogic nap he used to spark subconscious creative thoughts, there are a plethora of ways to gain creative inspiration from the artist and his habits.

Know No Limits

In 1934, Dalí had his first U.S. exhibition, which garnered widespread media attention in large part because the artist arrived in his signature, bold style, wearing a glass case containing a brassiere around his chest. This type of eccentricity is reflected in his works and approach to creative thinking as well. He was undoubtedly known for taking risks, and thrived off the attention that came from it. The artist constantly experimented with different methods and techniques to expand his creative thought process and spark new ideas.

Creative takeaway: Push the boundaries to find success in endeavors that rarely seem feasible.

Experiment Often

salvador dali's lincoln in dalivision

Salvador Dali, “Lincoln in Dalivision” lithograph, 1976. Sold for AUD300 via Leonard Joel (April 2016).

Dalí was constantly exploring new ways to approach artistic endeavors, and he worked through a number of ways to conceive of fantastical imagery. For example, he would often place a tin plate on the floor, and sit beside a chair, holding a spoon over the plate. As soon as his body would relax and begin to doze off, the spoon would slip from his fingers and bang on the plate. This immediately woke him, and from there he was able to capture the surreal images present in his mind.

Creative takeaway: It’s imperative to experiment. Try new things, and try them often.

Observe and Record

Aside from experimenting, there’s much to gain from observing and recording the things we see around us. When we observe, we look at things from a different point of view than our own. Researchers found that people with strong observational skills who are aware of their surroundings are more creative than those who aren’t. Dalí would often record details and imagery he observed during a hypnagogic, nap-like state, allowing his subconscious to reveal new insights.

Creative takeaway: It’s essential to record your daily observations. People often lose their ideas because they fail to document them.

Embrace a Sense of Calm

Salvador Dali's the birth of venus

Salvador Dali, “The Birth of Venus,” 1485–1486. Sold for $1,200 via Swann Auction Galleries (September 2002).

Often, it’s necessary to completely quiet your mind from all external influences. Much like the saying, “a watched pot never boils,” you can’t go looking impatiently for inspiration. This is one of the key ways Dalí entered the hypnagogic state: by achieving a totally absent, passive mind and leaving room for ideas to come organically. The unconscious mind has the ability to communicate specific ideas, and even if they don’t directly lead to immediate creative output, they have the potential to inspire new thoughts in the future.

Creative takeaway: Mindfulness can pave the way for ideas that have immediate or long-term potential.

Set Lofty Goals

Fear of failure is one of the most common suppressors of creativity. Human nature instills in us the instinct to avoid lofty aspirations due to the uncertainties and hardships they may require. Without goals, however, it’s nearly impossible to succeed. Dalí attempted to join several artistic movements before adopting his own style, one which sealed his legacy as one of the most iconic artists of modern art. From his personal life choices to his unique artistic perspective, he was unapologetically himself and pursued ideas that seemed outlandish.

Creative takeaway: Don’t let fear of failure limit your creative potential.

Find Inspiration in Yourself

salvador dali's the burning giraffe

Salvador Dali, “The Burning Giraffe,” 1937. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Much of Dalí’s success was due in large part to his avid self-promotion. He utilized popular media, starring in Alka-Seltzer and chocolate bar commercials and even appearing on game shows. His rich creative imagination and savvy self-marketing techniques helped propel him into the spotlight and ultimately contributed to his fame and lasting legacy. Dalí is a prime example of how believing in your own success can be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Creative takeaway: There is no harm in being your own biggest supporter.

Creative Lessons on Success from Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí used a variety of methods and techniques to transcend the world of reason and embrace surrealist principles. Though he was a polarizing figure, he undoubtedly yielded a successful artistic career by pushing boundaries and believing in his process. From tapping into the subconscious through hypnagogic naps to experimenting in new media, there’s much to learn from Dalí’s process that can kickstart creativity.

salvador dali infographic

Salvador Dalí is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Known for his fantastical and dream-like surrealist images, his art is featured in private collections and museums around the world. His Portrait of Paul Elard sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2011 for $22.4 million, the highest price ever paid for a work by a surrealist (still to this day). Along with his unique approach to making art, Dalí is equally remembered for his eccentric behavior and uncommon methods for harnessing creativity. He left behind a legacy of inspiration and techniques to implement for all looking to achieve creative success.

Sources: Psychology Today | The Creativity Post | Medium | Inc. | Lifehack