8 Ways to Explore Salvador Dali’s World

Imaginative and eccentric, Spanish artist Salvador Dali turned the experience of art on its head, creating some of the most iconic artwork of the 20th century. He once said, “The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand my own pictures, does not mean that these pictures have no meaning; on the contrary, their meaning is so profound, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it escapes the most simple analysis of logical intuition,” suggesting that his work is supposed to feel as weird and open to interpretation as it in fact does. This winter is the perfect time to explore the world of Salvador Dali, and these resources will help you do just that.

Borrow a lesson plan. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla. has a whole collection of Dali-themed unit studies, including fun art projects and in-depth inquiries. Good bets include the lesson on George Orwell, Salvador Dali, and Censorship for older students and the thematic Spain and Catalonia: A Thematic Introduction to Dali for younger kids. 

Take his word for it. Who knows how much of Dali’s autobiography is actually true? Truth is beside the point when you’re reading The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, which is full of anecdotes, philosophy, and Dali-isms like “Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” 

Be your own madman. Kids can dive into the weird joys of surrealism with a variety of hands-on art projects in Salvador Dali and the Surrealists: Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities. Produce your own Dali-esque dream video, create an art piece from found objects, make solar prints, and more.

Explore his place in history. The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation presents a detailed chronology of Dali’s life, from his first exhibition (at age fourteen) to his film collaborations with Luis Bunuel to his appointment as Marquis of Pubol of Spain a few years before his death in 1989, and everything in between. 

Dive into his work. Dali’s work speaks for itself — though you can certainly spend hours debating what it’s actually saying. Art Story’s online Dali gallery includes some of the artist’s best-known works, plus information that helps put them into the greater context of the art world. (Be aware: Dali was interested in some adult topics, which frequently show up in his work. You may want to do an advance screening to eliminate any works that don’t feel right sharing with your child right now.) 

Take a scientific approach. Carme Ruiz highlights some of the scientists and theories that influenced Dali’s work in the essay “Salvador Dali and Science.” Dali had hundreds of science books in his library, on topics ranging from quantum theory and physics to evolution and mathematics. Like so many artists of his time, Dali found scientific achievements, like the atomic bomb, and discoveries, like the structure of DNA, fascinating, and you can find scientific influence in much of his work.

Fall with him through the rabbit hole. Lewis Carroll and Salvador Dali might just be a match made in heaven. True, getting hold of an actual copy of the edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that Dali illustrated for New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House in 1969 can run you upwards of $12,000, but the William Bennett Gallery has generously made the — truly delightful — illustrations available.

Let him tell you about it. The 1986 documentary Dali gives the artist a chance to tell his story his own way — and boy, is his way interesting. You can watch the first part of the documentary on YouTube, too.