Sometimes you need to get out of a rut. Think in a new direction. Shake up your own world a bit.
This happened recently when I visited the Salvador Dalí museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I admit that Dalí's art wasn't the main pull for me. I have always found his paintings a bit, well... creepy. Yes, super imaginative, but also weird. The bigger draw for me was the showcase of collaborations between Dalí and the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli (affectionately referred to as Schiap by her friends and in the exhibit). Schiap, a contemporary of Gabrielle Coco Chanel, collaborated frequently with Dalí. They came together based on their commitment to use their imagination to surprise, invert, and question. Surrealism, an art movement of the 1920's and 1930's primarily associated with visual art and literature, was all about questioning the status quo by contorting what we took to be norms. Inversion, reversals, and exaggerations are the basic principles of surrealism.
What was most interesting about this exhibit was its relevance for today. Surrealism offers a much-needed antidote for those times when you need to shift your perspective. Here are three things I learned from Dalí about how to go about doing this.
Dalí and Schiap loved collage, to juxtapose materials and reorder events. For example, Dali's 1936 Lobster Phone explored inversion (the exoskeletal lobster) and influenced Schiap's provocative 1937 Lobster Dress. The dress was worn by Wallis Simpson, on the occasion of her scandalous marriage to the Duke of Windsor, and documented by photographer Cecil Beaton in Vogue magazine. In our working lives, collage can take the form of collaboration and help us get out of silos and embrace working in tribes. Mixing and matching is where the most interesting ideas come from, and it is a lot easier to mix and match when you extend yourself to people with perspectives different from your own. This is a wonderful advantage of participating in co-working spaces such as WeWork or Kismet.
2. Act on Your Imagination.
Fashion provides a natural stage to present drama, a parallel universe, the netherworld and dream-like conditions. The Vogue art director Grace Coddington was famous for such magazine layouts. And Dalí loved to incorporate remnants of his dreams into his paintings. In Dalí's Soft Construction With Boiled Beans he shared his premonition of Spain's 1936 Civil War. Here, the power of the imagination becomes relevant.
Dreams can distort time, location and perspective- for good and for bad. Mostly, dreams request that you tap into your imagination and explore ambiguity. Today's times call for you to be more daring in your work. An example is Orbis' Flying Eye Hospital - which sounds like the name of a Dalí painting, but it's a real thing. Orbis converted a donated FedEx plane and outfitted it with the technology to provide eye surgery in some of the poorest and remote parts of the world. It inverted the business model of how we expect healthcare to happen; it actually revisits the small town doctor of yesteryear, where the doctor goes to the patient.
3. Invert, Reverse and Revisit.
Jazz in the 1920s and 1930s was the backdrop to Dalí's and Schiap's work. And jazz is the original surrealist art form when it comes to re-imagining, inverting, and disrupting. The basis of improvisation is to work in, around and outside of existing structures in order to create something new and novel. It is the opposite of strictly following conventional rules- there are new rules in improvisation. Take note of the ways some startups are re-imagining seed funding by initiating ICOs instead of IPOs. ICOs are intial coin offerings, and leverage cryptocurrency and blockchain technology through the sale of tokens. They could disrupt the traditional venture capital industry by improvising on an old model of funding.
For these three reasons it's helpful to take a look back at a movement like surrealism to alter our own reality.