#Donald Trump's habit of faulting others, blaming the media, his opponent, his accusers – even his own political party -- brings to mind a 1998 biography “The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali” by Ian Gibson. The Spanish Surrealist also suffered paranoia; and although the comparison that this column makes between painter and politician isn’t measure for measure, many of Trump’s ways and means conjure up Dali’s self-same frailties.
Beginning of the end
As a youth, Dali showed signs of the self-publicist that he became. The painter wrote in his diary that he was going to be a genius admired by the world, and even if despised, he’d be a genius admired by the world. One may wonder whether Trump will come to the same end as Dali, which Publisher’s Weekly tagged in reviewing the Dali bio -- a swan-dive from visionary to pathetic self-parody and a case study in career suicide.
A Trump profile in the June issue of the Atlantic magazine cited psychologists like Howard Gardner of Harvard using words such as narcissism and grandiosity to describe him. Also cited was clinical shrink George Simon, who runs seminars on manipulative behavior and regularly shows videos of Trump in action to demonstrate what he calls a classic case of narcissism.
Beyond all reason
Dali’s behavior was not unlike Trump’s in a 1971 incident narrated in Gibson’s bio when the Surrealist attended a retrospective for painter Francis Bacon at the Grand Palais in Paris. Dali was overheard to say that Bacon’s work, well known for its shock value, was “very, very reasonable.” Expecting attention for his outlandish view given that Bacon’s work was anything but reasonable, he said it again only louder to get heads turning in his direction. Getting attention was a way of life for Dali. Sound familiar? My 2004 book “#Art Behind the Scenes” recounts a stunt that Dali pulled when commissioned to design a window display for Bonwit Teller’s department on Fifth Avenue in New York that brought him the headlines he sought.
Breaking through the looking glass
Dali set out to install a mannequin dressed in an outfit featured by the department store but reclining in a bathtub. His idea of a fully clothed figure taking a bath was intended to bring attention to the window. But when he saw that store management changed the display by taking the manikin out of the tub and standing it up, the tub got mysteriously propelled through the plate glass to the street along with the bathtub. And another headline went to the painter.
The Dali bio also describes how the painter became a hollow, money-making exhibitionist when he sold his signature and set off a $1 billion counterfeit-print industry. His heedless aloofness to the truth also seems Trump’s brand. But perhaps the most disturbing likeness between Dali and Trump is their high regard for dictators. While Trump extols the virtues of Vladimir Putin, Dali supported the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and freely acknowledged that he was “turned on” by Adolf Hitler.