Dorothy Harris

As we dilly-Dali through life

Our wedding anniversary landed smack dab in the middle of the week, ensuring a delayed celebration. If you’ve been married this long, you already know this is not cause for alarm.

Since we enjoy visiting art galleries, we spent the day at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg the following weekend. Neither of us knew much about Salvador Dali, though we had seen his peculiar artwork before. We expected a day dilly-dallying around, but what we experienced was quite different.

From the austere but stunning exterior to heavily guarded galleries above a soaring staircase that spirals to the third floor and glass-roofed atrium, it was like no other gallery we had encountered. Docents, well versed in Dali details, lead hourly tours that are absolutely required if you even want to begin to grasp what you are viewing. Traveling this incredible collection of art, one visits various eras of Salvador Dali’s work, which I couldn’t help but think mirrors our own life journey.

His early work, completed under rigorous schooling, shows the Dali expected from society, sort of like our own early years of marriage. We did the things typical of young married couples, following the expectations of others. Then, like Dali, we broke from these requirements and escaped to sunny Florida. Dali also departed from the expectancies of others and rebuffed art schooling to begin expressing himself.

From my perspective the middle years of Salvador Dali were the hardest to understand with the mixture of surreal and modern day. Seeing the same things — ants, grasshoppers, shadows of men — showing up over and over again, but not understanding why, became frustrating to me. What was Dali trying to say by incorporating these images in painting after painting?

It reminded me of those annoying issues that plagued the middle years of our marriage. Over and over again we fought about the same things, yet understood each other little. Understanding Dali was actually harder than learning to understand my own spouse, although I’ve had years to study him and just a day to absorb Dali’s peculiarities. Perhaps, like a Dali painting, there is no way to fully understand one another. Thankfully as the years passed into maturity, we emerged into the masterworks of a mature relationship.

Like the expansive Dali canvases, our relationship still incorporates so many experiences it takes your breath away. Trying to absorb all the years is like spending a half-hour in front of one of these wall-sized canvases, struggling to see and grasp all that is conveyed. Just when you think you are getting it, the light from the carefully constructed light boxes brightens, and the incredible engineering illuminates images you hadn’t yet been able to see, once again changing your perspective and understanding.

Long-term marriage is similar to these mind-boggling canvases. Images of the past are incorporated, but now play a minor part of the bigger picture. Much can be seen by carefully studying the canvas, or the other person, for things not immediately visible.

Remembering the significance of the minor images is important, but within the masterwork, the greater awareness is the sum of all the parts, rather than the individual images. Together they mean more than when viewed separately.

We may never understand Dali, or each other for that matter, but joy and refreshment comes from attempting to broaden our appreciation. Then when the light shifts, illuminating new viewpoints, we can laugh in delight.

Perhaps understanding each other is truly as Dali intended his art to be — ever shifting, always in a state of discovery and awareness.