Paranoid-Critical Method

  Created in the early 1930’s by Dali himself, the “Paranoid-Critical” method is a Surrealist method used to help an artist tap into their subconscious through systematic irrational thought and a self-induced paranoid state. By inducing this paranoid state one can forego one’s previous notions, concepts, and understanding of the world and reality in order to view the world in new, different and more unique ways. [2][3]
  After his self-induced paranoid state, Dali would then paint what he had witnessed, creating what he referred to as, “hand painted dream photographs.”[3]. Dali used his “Paranoid Critical” method to relate objects that were otherwise unrelated. He did this through the use of optical illusions and juxtaposing images. While using these techniques, it was very important to Dali to maintain his artistic integrity by painting realistically, Dali said, “My whole ambition in the pictorial domain is to materialize the images of my concrete irrationality with the most imperialist fury of precision...”[1]. Dali believed that when people viewed his work, there was a subjective understanding of his work as the subconscious has a symbolic universal language. Simply viewing his work would evoke the mind of the viewer to experience unconscious acts.

“The subconscious has a symbolic language that is truly a universal language, for it speaks with the vocabulary of the great vital constants, sexual instinct, feeling of death, physical notion of the enigma of space—these vital constants are universally echoed in every human. To understand an aesthetic picture, training in the appreciation is necessary, cultural and intellectual preparation. For Surrealism the only re requisite is a receptive and intuitive human being.” [2].                                                                         --Salvador Dali

 Dali’s used his “Paranoid-Critical” method throughout his entire career. He used it in his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory which includes dreamscapes, melting clocks and an interesting self-portrait. It can be seen in Swans Reflecting Elephants, in which swan’s reflections on a lake are elephants, two otherwise unalike animals. The Burning Giraffe, which has a woman made out of a drawers and a giraffe on fire in the background, also very diverse imagery. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans consists of two large masses, but if you look closely you can see two feet, two hands, collar bones and a head. My personal favorite is Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. In this painting a large gold fish is coming out of an open pomegranate, the fish is eating a tiger, that tiger is about to eat another tiger’s tail and that tiger is in mid air in attack pose, in front of him is a rifle and in front of the rifle is a nude woman levitating just above the ground that is also floating above a body of water. In the background is one of Dali’s elephants with obscenely long legs. The painting may make no sense whatsoever, but is incredibly beautiful.
  It is clear from Dali’s artwork that he is trying to create a place for his viewers to look at the world in a different light. The juxtaposition of images and the optical illusions in his work forces one to abandon any preconceived notions one might have about reality and the world. Even if these notions are only abandoned for a second, he still has been successful.  As Dali once said, “Paranoiac-critical activity organizes and objectivizes in an exclusivist manner the limitless and unknown possibilities of the systematic association of subjective and objective 'significance' in the irrational...” [1].


1.  Dali, Salvador, and David Gascoyne. Conquest of the Irrational. New York: Julien Levy, 1935.

2. Gordon, David A. "Experimental Psychology and Modern Painting." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 9 (1951): 227-43. JStor. ITHAKA. 6 Dec. 2009 <>.

3.  "The Paranoid Critical Transformation Method." HSU Library Art. 15 June 2003. Humboldt State University. 6 Dec. 2009 <>.

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