Salvador Dali - Sleep 1937

Dali’s “Sleep” of 1937 deals with a Freudian theme of the world of dreams that has fascinated the Surrealists who believed that the freedom of the subconscious within sleep could be tapped into and then realized creatively in their art. This painting is an attempt to duplicate the dream world into canvas.

“Sleep” is virtually a visual rendering of the body's collapse into sleep, as if it was a collapse into a separate condition of being. Against a deep blue summer sky, a huge disembodied head with eyes dissolved in sleep, hangs suspended over an almost bare landscape. The head is "soft", vulnerable and distorted. And what should be a neck tapers away to drop limply over a crutch. A dog appears on the left, its head in a crutch too, as if half asleep itself.

The head is supported above land by a series of wooden crutches. The mouth, nose and also eyes are all held in place by the crutches, suggesting that the head might collapse if they were removed. Crutches are a familiar motif in Dali’s works. As Dali attests in his book, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, “I have often imagined the monster of sleep as a heavy, giant head with a tapering body held up by the crutches of reality. When the crutches break we have the sensation of falling.”

Analysis: some aesthetic principles of "good design" applied in this painting:

1. Hierarchy - the center of painting, the most important figure is the huge sleeping head supported by the crutches. It is the most significant part of the message that deals with the subconscious (of the head) and its dreams.

2. Emphasis and focus - is put visually on the sleeping head by magnifying it to a gigantic size, positioning it in the center, and coloring it in light yellowish colors contrasted with the light blue sky.

3. Contrast – the colors (light yellow Vs. blue) are contrasted to accentuate the head as the main figure. In addition, the head’s size is contrasted to the real world’s size represented by the dog figure on the left, and the castle far away, on the right. The magnification of the head and its distortion help to focus the viewer’s eyes on the head in a dramatic scenery.

4. Tension- is created between the dripping part of the head on the right, and the facial features on the left. The right side may allude to male sexuality that might be exhausted or dormant during sleep. Another tension might relate to the pain caused by the crutches on the face, another Freudian issue.

5. Balance - is a prominent element. The heavy sleepy head is supported by several crutches that are much lighter in weight than the head; suggesting that if they fall, the head might crash. As it might be easy to fall asleep, however the wakefulness and reality are much stronger.

6. Rhythm - is created by using several crutches rather than one to support the parts of the face. The crutches’ positioning in the painting is balanced and harmonic--suggesting continuity between the dream (represented by the sleepy head) and the reality (represented by the crutches.)

7. Flow – the viewer’s eyes are led on the head to the parts held by the crutches, i.e., eyes, nose, lips, chin, and dripping neck. Then, the viewer notices, one unused crutch, a castle in perspective, and the dog on the left-- all of which are meant to capture attention to the head itself.

8. Depth – is created using perspective. The head in the front, while the faraway castle on the right, and the dog on the left create a 3D like positioning, emphasizing the head in the center.

9. Scale – an illusion of size is created by magnifying the head and positioning it in contrast to the castle and the dog. In addition, the head is distorted to focus the viewer’s attention on its prominence in the painting.

10. Movement - is created from the head parts on the left toward the dripping neck on the right. This might have an emotional effect on the viewer, even a subconscious one.

11. Unity – a consistent style of imagery is used. The central part is magnified and distorted. The crutches balance the parts coherently, and the other figures in perspective add in harmoniously to create an overall impression of the painting as united.