Art Term of the Month: Symbolism - Making Sense of Lobster Telephones
As we’ve explored the Surrealist master Salvador Dali’s artwork this month during our Dali exhibit, we’ve seen some strange imagery, including burning giraffes, drawers coming out of skulls, and figures in all sorts of strange poses. Dali was well-known for being an eccentric – but was his art strange for strangeness’ sake, or was there something more he was trying to show?
Well, Dali did like to showboat – but with purpose. As a Surrealist, Dali explored the subconscious and unconscious, drawing upon Freud’s work to find meaning in strange dreams and incongruous pairings. Many of his pieces used symbols to subtly (or not-so-subtly) explore ideas of sexual anxiety, gender and relationships.
"Lobster Telephone" by Salvador Dali
For example, Dali’s three-dimensional Surrealist object “Lobster Telephone” or “Aphrodisiac Telephone,” seen above, might at first seem ridiculous, something to merely surprise and amuse. Symbolically, though, this work moves beyond the Surrealist impulse to absurdity and touches on the connection between food, sex and communication. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for Dali who drew a close analogy between food and sex throughout his work. In Lobster Telephone, he placed the crustacean's tail, where its sexual parts are located, directly over the mouthpiece. A similar drawing of a lobster telephone is printed in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí with the description:
"I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone; I do not understand why champagne is always chilled and why on the other hand telephones, which are habitually so frightfully warm and disagreeably sticky to the touch, are not also put in silver buckets with crushed ice around them.”
Balancing absurdity and meaningful symbolism, Dali’s unusual perspectives push us to think in a similarly playful, abstract, yet sensual way.