The Persistence of Memory

One of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings is titled, The Persistence of Memory.” It was completed in August 1931 when Dali was 27; and at the time he was “penniless and outcast from the community which had inspired much of his art.” He and his wife, Gala, “settled in a small fishing settlement, Port Lligat, buying a single-room fishing shack,” and it was there that he painted “The Persistence of Memory.” (Quote source here.) Here’s a brief background on the painting:

“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

However we interpret this small 9 ½ X 13 inch (24.1 x 33cm) work, its influence on the wider art world cannot be in doubt.

First shown in Paris at Galerie Pierre Colle in 1931, the painting was also exhibited at the first Surrealist exhibition in the United States, at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1931, then, in 1934, by Julien Levy in New York.

Dalí and his wife Gala accompanied the painting over to New York in 1934, travelling third class with the financial assistance of Pablo Picasso.

By this point Dalí had been formally expelled from the Surrealists, partly due to his political opinions, but also thanks to his enthusiasm for American popular culture, something… his fellow European Surrealists disdained.

The irony remains that, in coming to America with his most famous painting, Dalí became the moment’s most famous artist…. “The image of the famous soft watches had been widely diffused–and caricatured–to the point where it had acquired a cult status by the time it was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York [in 1934].” (Quote source, Robert Radford, lecturer, writer and exhibition curator who taught Art History for many years at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton.)

An anonymous donor passed “The Persistence of Memory” on to MoMA [in 1934], where it remains to this day. “It was there that Dalí gave a lecture in which he reportedly said that the public could rest content with their difficulty in understanding the work, since the artist himself did not know what it meant either.” (Quote source: Robert Radford.)

Though, of course, one meaning is plain: the painting’s success meant that Dalí’s stardom was assured, and the painting’s place, as the acme of Surrealism, was, unlike the painting’s time pieces, equally concrete. (Quote source here.)

For all of the analysis taking place over the years regarding Dali’s most famous painting, I find it amusing that the artist, himself, admitted that he did not know what it meant. Yet, the persistence of memory in our own lives can and does have both negative and positive effects on our lives.

In an article published in 2011 titled, Do We Remember Bad Times Better Than Good?” by Colleen Cancio, contributor on, she writes:

Ask people where they were when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, and it’s a good bet that they’ll remember without hesitating. They may even recall specific details about the day, such as exactly what they were doing just before they saw the news reports of the terror attacks. This remarkable ability to conjure up even the smallest details surrounding a tragic or traumatic event is directly related to the intensity of the event itself. In other words, the more emotionally disturbing the experience is to us, the more likely we are to commit it to memory [source: Science Daily]. This is because memory and emotion are inextricably linked in the human brain.

But while people seem to easily remember tragic events and the seemingly insignificant details associated with them, many would be hard-pressed to recall the minutia of their happy times. For example, mothers often have trouble summoning the specifics of their children’s birth, but are amazingly accurate in recounting the duration and intensity of the labor process. It begs the question, “Do we remember the bad times better than the good?”….

In modern society, very bad memories can be psychologically debilitating. For example, war veterans sometimes experience flashbacks of being in combat zones when they return to civilian life, which can be extremely distressing.

“Strong memories often have an emotional impact that can be more pervasive, even causing physical symptoms, especially when it comes to traumatic events,” explains Tanya Clausen, clinical social worker in Washington, D.C. “Unfortunately, some people re-experience the memories of traumatizing events for years after the fact. It’s common to experience a biological response when these memories play out, including heart palpitations and shortness of breath.”

The good news is that people can also benefit from reliving positive experiences, such as remembering the overall sense of well-being that comes from being deeply happy. This is because good memories can cause the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure [source: Lang]. Clausen suggests that happy memories can also positively affect our mental health and can be used therapeutically to reduce the symptoms associated with bad memories….

Some people seem to have an uncanny ability to downplay negative experiences in their lives and magnify the positive ones. We all have that friend who, when life offers lemons, manages to make lemonade. Are these individuals also remembering the good times more than the bad? If so, is this skill a matter of mind over memory? Or is it that some people are hard-wired with a more pessimistic perspective? According to Clausen, the ability to minimize the negative impact of memories takes a learned and conscious effort. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in 2016 titled, Why Are Bad Memories Good? Here’s How You Can Get Something Positive Out of Painful Recollections,” by Marissa Higgins, a writer based in Washington, DC, she writes:

Let’s be real: I know no one likes to dwell on the bad, painful parts of our lives. But can bad memories actually be good? Generally speaking, the hard parts are the aspects of our lives we try to bury deep and “move on” from; however, a lot of research shows that there’s much to be gained from digging deep and understanding our bad memories. Here’s how you can get something positive about some of your more painful recollections, according to science.

Basically, our brains (and bodies) process information in a way that hinges on our survival: if we have a negative experience, or an experience that, for example, brings us a great amount of fear, our body begins to teach itself to be wary of the same event happening again. While this is useful if you’re, say, hunting in the wilderness and need to be super in-tune with nature, “Hunger Games”style, it is not so useful if a memory you’re repressing is preventing you from experiencing an otherwise enjoyable part of your everyday life.

But still—if you could just get rid of the bad memory, you would, right? That is, of course, way easier said than done. While it may feel easier to just repress hard things or try to push them out of our minds, reflecting back on, processing, and learning from bad memories is how we develop and grow as people.

It’s important, too, to draw a clear line between reflecting back on painful memories in an attempt to process and learn from them, and experiencing reoccurring memories which negatively impact your life….

At this point the Higgins states five ways of working through a bad memory which are available at this link. I will mentioned three of the five ways below:

(1) You Gain Understanding: Sometimes our bad memories stem from places that we don’t fully understand. Either we don’t entirely remember what happened, or we understand the logistics, but not the why behind it. Having unanswered questions, or have information that feels unsatisfactory, can feel incredibly frustrating, especially when something negatively impacted your life or the life of someone you care about. When bad memories take control over our minds and hearts, it can make you feel helpless and vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to get to the root of your hard memories and therein, the root of the issue. Sometimes, though it can be really tough, the only way out is through.

(2) You Learn Some Important Lessons: That’s right: Confronting hard memories may help you learn some pretty important life lessons. I know it sounds cliche, but we’re all basically shaped by our past experiences, including the negative ones. Whether your bad memories are rooted in decisions you actively made, or things that happened to you over which you may not have had much control, it’s important to work through them and process them fully. This allows you to have a distance from the situation and learn from it; either in terms of how you’ll handle a situation differently in the future, or by seeing the strength you have through surviving a traumatic event you were a victim of. No matter the scenario, there is always room to recognize growth anlearn from an experience.

(3) You Can Confront People From Your Past: Sometimes we come to the realization that we simply can’t make sense of our bad memories on our own—that there’s some missing information we simply aren’t privy to—and in order to feel a piece of mind, we reach out to others. Now, it’s important to remember that just because you want to talk about something doesn’t mean other people are ready (or will ever be ready) to, so there’s a point in which you need to work on finding closure in any way you can, even if it isn’t the ideal circumstance. However, if you can get in touch with someone and they’re OK talking to you about what’s been on your mind, it can be really beneficial to hear someone else’s perspective and their version of what happened. This may reinforce what you thought and help you feel valid in your feelings, or may lighten the burden of what you perceived was on your shoulders.

So, there you have it! Working through bad or traumatic memories isn’t going to be easy, but overall, it’s definitely going to be worth it. We all only have one life, and it’s important to understand what goes in our lives as fully and richly as possible, so we can better understand ourselves and our decisions, hopefully leading us to more health and happiness in the long-run. (Quote source here.)

In a devotion published in 2017 titled, Overcoming Bad Memories,” posted by Glenda Rhodeman, she writes:

“Do not…ponder the things of the past.”Isaiah 43:18 NAS

To overcome bad memories you must: (1) Reframe them. Looking back, Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 NAS). (2) Reject them. The next time a bad memory resurfaces, refuse to entertain it. “Do not…ponder the things of the past.” (3) Refocus your thoughts. “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13 NKJV). You say, “I can’t help remembering.” If you can recall your troubles, you can recall your blessings. The most effective way to overcome bad memories–is to replace them with good ones! And here’s some good news: Every promise God gives you contains the power to fulfill it. So meditate on these words and personalize them: “Fear not…do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth” (Isaiah 54:4 NAS).

“The former things shall not be remembered or come into mind… be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create” (Isaiah 65:17-18 AMP). Notice the word “create.” God can create beauty out of ashes and order out of chaos–but it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll do a lot of growing and forgiving along the way.  In some cases you’ll forgive others; in other cases you’ll forgive yourself. You say, “But all those promises are from the Old Testament!” Yes, but the Bible says, “He carries out and fulfills all of [His] promises, no matter how many… there are” (2 Corinthians 1:20 TLB). So bring your bad memories to God and let Him heal them.

This message taken from: Daily Devotional–The Word For You Today (Quote source here.)

All of us have some bad memories caused by ourselves or by others or a combination of the two as in the case of divorce, but it is what we do with the bad memories that is most important. As the devotion above states at the end–“Bring your bad memories to God and let Him heal them.” After all, God stated in Isaiah 43:18-19: Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness . . .

And streams . . .

In the wasteland . . . .

YouTube Video: “All Things New” by Hillsong Worship:

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