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A shock to the system
Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)<br><i>Aphrodisiac Telephone</i>, 1938<br>Plastic, metal
zoom Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1938
Plastic, metal


The Surrealists viewed morality and good taste as part of rational thinking. Art that bypassed those filters would, at times, be shocking. Shocks were useful, because they disrupted conscious thought. When the conscious mind is too shocked to think, the unconscious is more clearly revealed.

To make this sculpture, Salvador Dalí took a telephone—an ordinary household object—and replaced the receiver with a similarly shaped model of a lobster. Imagine absentmindedly answering the telephone and feeling a lobster clawing at your head!

But Surrealist shocks did not have to be disturbing. A lobster-telephone is also funny. The Surrealists used unexpected combinations like this to shake people up and get them to see the world differently.

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1. Hints of sexuality often appear in Surrealist paintings. Though not a Surrealist himself, the painter Balthus was a friend of many Surrealists and shared their interest in the workings of the unconscious mind.
Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola), The Living Room, 1941-43, oil on canvas
2. This picture gives the logical mind a quiet surprise—the moon is in front of the tree instead of behind it.
René Magritte, Le 16 Septembre (Tree with Crescent Moon), about 1955, gouache on paper


April 2006