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The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí Hardcover – November 17, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

"The world will admire me. Perhaps I'll be despised and misunderstood, but I'll be a great genius, I'm certain of it."

At 16, Salvador Dali had already developed the remarkable ego and uncanny perception that would distinguish him as one of the most notorious artists of the 20th century. A self-proclaimed surrealist, an avant-garde exhibitionist, and a criticized commercialist with questionable political affiliations, Dali was anything but benign. Biographer Ian Gibson (Federico Garcia Lorca) argues that the modern master was motivated primarily by the very last thing anyone would suspect him of: a very deep sense of shame. Via the artist's correspondence, diary, and autobiography (The Secret Life of Salvador Dali), Gibson meticulously stitches together the wild characters and deep-dish details of Dali's life: a guilt-ridden childhood, feelings of sexual inadequacy ("...I discovered that my penis was small, pitiful and soft"), his love affairs with Lorca and sex-pot Gala and the real passion of his life, surrealism. Critical, fair, and lively, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali digs beyond the escapades and outlandish façade to expose the very personal and vulnerable side of one of the world's most eccentric performers.

From Publishers Weekly

Salvador Dali's swan-dive from Surrealist visionary to pathetic self-parody surely constitutes one of this century's great case studies in career suicide. From roughly 1928 to the Spanish Civil War, Dali fused his myriad sexual compulsions and anxieties with a pathological desire to epater le bourgeois, creating a group of first-rate paintings (think limp watches) that withstood all the disasters to follow. Shame was central throughout Dali's career, according to Gibson. His white-hot creative steak of the late 1920s and early 1930s started when his father expelled him from the family for a painting consisting of the phrase "Sometimes I Spit for Pleasure on the Portrait of My Mother" scrawled over an outline of Jesus Christ. Dali's second and more lasting brush with shame, however, was less productive. He was excommunicated from the Surrealist movement by its "pope," Andre Breton (who anagrammatically dubbed him "Avida Dollars"), for excessive greed and ambivalence toward fascism. After this, Dali sunk as far and as fast as possible, marrying the charismatic but openly promiscuous Gala; treating art as nothing but a cash cow; and engaging in increasingly lame publicity stunts, sycophantic visits to dictators and popes and even a little cruelty to animals. Gibson has made the most of this promising but treacherous material: "Two thirds of this book are devoted to one third of Dali's life," that is, the more productive and less shameful part. Meticulously researched and compulsively readable, Gibson's narrative benefits from sturdy readings of the paintings and an in-depth knowledge of the artist's milieu, partially gained from his work on Lorca (Federico Garcia Lorca: A Life). And while the book's last third may make the reader wince and squirm, this response only demonstrates how effectively the biographer has evoked Dali's shameful decline. There are more than 30 full-color reproductions and illustrations.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American ed edition (November 17, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046243
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Allen Salyer on January 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most biographies I've read, the opening chapters are a bore of mundane details of the person's childhood that are uninterestnig and nearly always read the same. In contrast, Ian Gibson's writing style is so lush, that even the detailed history of the Dali family before Salvador was born are compelling. Gibson gives you the feel of the Spanish countryside and the era in which Dali and his forefathers lived. Gibson is a careful biographer as well. Instead of taking Dali's own autobiography, "The Secret Life Of Salvador Dali," at face value, Gibson researches Dali's life and points out discrepencies and exaggerations of Dali writings. It led me to reread Dali's own writings and gave me further insight into the mind of the artist. I enjoyed reading about Dali's relationships with other painters (Surreal and otherwise), writers and poets such as Lorca, and his love of jazz. Far from a dry outline of a famous person's life, this book makes Dali come alive.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By D.C.Meyer on December 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Well researched revisionist biography of one of the century's great artists. As the title implies, the author suggests that a key to understanding Dali is his feelings of shame. Dali suffered from almost paralizing bouts of shame as a child, and struggled (not always successfully) to work around or overcompensate for them. Those with a casual interest in Dali should start off with the artist's own "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali" for many insights and a more entertaining read. The "Shamefull Life" tries to find the story behind the story. My biggest objection to this book is Gibson's almost total dismissal of Dali's art after 1940, which I fear is a prejudice based more on politics than the Dali's art itself.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By N Z. A. on March 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an author who decides to look at the life of Salvador Dali by concentrating in his faults and dark side. The story is written based on looking at the empty half of the glass, as Gibson's thesis proclaims that this was not a great painter with a negative side, but that the painter's negative side was primordial to his artistic evolution. Still, for anyone in search of understanding the brilliance of Dali, this is the ultimate book. The genius of this Spanish painter deserves such a comprehensive work, and Ian Gibson masterfully and in detail shows the reader the artist, in the context of his time and troubled life. In all books on Dali I have encountered, I have seldom seen such thorough research; the author is to be praised twofold, because the master himself did all in his power to publicly, and in writing, come across as someone he was not. In his biography, Mr. Gibson does a phenomenal job in clarifying the artist's strange life by uncovering his mysteries, and by intellectually undoing much of his exhibitionist behavior. Dali's thought process, as well as the distortions about himself and others are analyzed and criticized, at times subliminally (as if Gibson would become surreal himself), but most of the time quite openly, and it is refreshing that such a meticulous biography can provide such reading pleasure. Gibson, who had the opportunity to briefly meet the master, interviewed dozens of people (many of them knew the painter first hand), and the scholarship found in this magnificent 800 page treatise is well documented with in depth notes and proof sources, dozens of black and white photographs of people, places and art works, and 16 pages of color art.
We must however ask what was the author's true intention when using the word "Shameful" in the book's title?
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By NobodyImportant on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
If you want to be spoon fed Freudian explanations about what Dali's paintings mean, look for something else. But if you want a richly detailed, absolutely readable biography of Dali, this is it. I can't wait to read Gibson's biography of Lorca, but for now, I'm savoring this one and I only wish it were longer.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 1998
Format: Hardcover
reprint from Isthmus (Madison, WI) Vol. 23, No. 31, July 31-August 6, 1998, p. 19.
Dead almost ten years now, Salvador Dali (1904-89) remains one of the most talked about artists of the 20th century; pause quietly and you may hear the cascade of all that talk still drift softly upon his coffin. Dali was and still is, a household name - a rare thing for artists in their own lifetime, let alone immediately after their death. But despite name recognition, only Dali seemed aware of Dali's genius. A literal outcast among the avant garde's own putrid outcasts, Dali seemed not prepared or capable of fitting anywhere, whether within the faux freedom of Andre Breton's Surrealism or in the realm of post-war America's not-joking-around art world.
Despite a career that lasted until 1983, Dali only produced good work between 1929 and 1933. At least, that's what most art historians, curators and critics would have you believe. Dali's autobiographical fiction, public antics and impeccable talent for self generating PR has tended to color the way many artwriters have looked at his art: commercial kitsch painted by a hack fraud. Dali is possibly the only major artist of the modern period who hasn't been thoroughly reassessed. Thanks to several recent contributions (like R. Radford, H. Finkelstein)it seems Mr. Dali's cultural contributions, rather than public charades and smoke screens, are at last being assessed. Ian Gibson's unbalanced new biography contributes perceptive analysis of Dali's early years, but is savagely prejudiced about nearly everything else.
Gibson's young (1904-1924) Dali is better understood than ever. Dali's formative years are conjured in a dreamlike, magic realist narrative contextualizing the artist's Catalan background.
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