This speaks to the modern cult of celebrity – a cult Dali devoted most of his effort and energy to creating and cultivating, not only for himself but as a prototype for all who would follow. I guess you could say Dali was a pioneer in the art of being famous for being famous.
A shameless self-promoter and master manipulator, Dali mastered the art of getting noticed and staying noticed. He shrewdly utilized the ever-expanding media of the twentieth century to entice people toward his endless spectacle and performance parade. He understood Oscar Wilde’s famous “not being talked about quip” and energetically focused on always being talked about.
Dali’s claim that he had contributed absolutely nothing to art is what Dr. Charlton describes as “demonic honesty.” At first, the admission almost comes across as the humility and modesty of a great master who refuses to allow his ego to dominate his creations, but things take a sudden, somewhat unexpected turn when Dali refers to himself as a “very bad painter.”
Anyone familiar with Dali’s paintings knows he was anything but a bad painter, at least technically. Some may disagree, but I believe Dali was a far better painter than his contemporary fellow countryman, Pablo Picasso, at least technically. I will add that he was a far better painter than most twentieth-century painters.
How could Dali possibly consider himself a “very bad painter?”
Dali offers the following explanation – he is too intelligent to be a good painter. He then adds that one must be a little stupid to be a good painter.
The big question here is what Dali means by intelligence. I sense that the intelligence he refers to is the slick, devious, cunning, scheming, artful, and wily variety. Dali acknowledges that he is too crafty and guileful to be a great painter. Stupid artists reject the temptation to guile or knavery and approach art and creation with honest and pure motivations. Dali admits he is too intelligent to do so, which speaks volumes about his motivations.
Dali then goes on to praise the greatness and genius of Velazquez, Vermeer, and Raphael; however, he juxtaposes these geniuses with his “I’m a very bad painter” claim by declaring that he would die within a week were ever to produce a masterpiece that reached the height of a Velazquez. To avoid such a dreadful fate, he chooses to “paint bad pictures and live a little longer.”
I found this last bit intriguing on many levels. For starters, Dali seems perfectly aware of Creation. He also seems very aware of what he should be doing with his creativity. Yet he appears to reject what he should be doing in favor of what keeps Dali living, revealing that he never considered his art as anything more than a means to the shallowest of ends – fame, wealth, success, ego.
Dali acknowledges that if he pursued art and creativity more sincerely, it would be the end of him — more specifically, the end of famous, wealthy, successful, egomaniacal, celebrity Dali.
A different, perhaps truer Dali would take the very bad painter’s place – and very bad painter Dali wants none of that.
I sincerely hope Dali was able to let go of "living a little longer" when his life ended. I really do.