In December, I got on an airplane for the first time in two years. I travel for love; love of people I’ve missed, people I want to meet, and places that call me to love them. This time, I was called to the West Coast of Florida, a place that I had never been before. One specific place beckoned me: the Salvatore Dali Museum, in Saint Petersburg.
Whenever I’m called to a place I’ve never been, I know that place will change me in some important way. In the case of the Dali Museum, every other person I told I was going to the Tampa/St Pete area implored me to go there. My limited knowledge of Salvatore Dali made me think he was a pleasantly weird artist who experimented with different genres of painting–but the man I discovered was far from my ill-informed presumption. As a child, Dali had an extraordinary gift for seeing deeply into people, places, and things, including those he’d directly experienced and those that he’d only imagined. He had a gigantic vision for his career and wanted to play on the biggest possible stage. To do this, he knew he had to cultivate a persona so bold, so unique, that he himself would become a work of art.
Dali’s provocative mustache, his haunting eyes, and his penchant for posing in the most outlandish costumes drew collectors, critics, and fans. Far from being an eccentric who didn’t care what people thought, he orchestrated his image with great care. As he began to take more and more risks as an artist, he understood that the more people were drawn to him, the more willing they’d be to look at his art. He had an insatiable curiosity and openness to new ideas, and he was a passionate student of Sigmund Freud; in fact, he used Freud’s work to mine both his own unconscious and that of the world at large.
When you enter the museum, you are greeted by a life-sized image of Dali on a digital screen; touch the ‘start’ button, and Dali takes you on several legs of his personal journey. It’s the simplest and most creative use of Artificial Intelligence I’ve seen in a museum. Dali proclaims–in his quintessentially devilish and playful way–that although he’s dead, he’s not really dead because he lives on by talking directly to you.
So what does this have to do with inspiring conscious growth in an age of disruption? For one thing, Salvatore Dali is one of the most disrupted artists of the modern era. Finding out who Salvatore Dali really is inspired me to think more deeply about the power of love in business. Dali was clearly an artist-entrepreneur who had an exceptional command of branding, marketing, innovation, and organization. It was his love of the direct experience of life at its deepest levels that made his far-out works of art accessible. His personal brand drew people to his art who had never cared about art before.
Dali was in love with the potential for art to change the way we look at life, and he was even more in love with cultivating an outsized image of himself. He seemed to believe that he had to be so provocative that people would be forced to take notice; early in his career, he exhibited a drawing titled Sacred Heart that featured the words, “sometimes I spit with pleasure on the portrait of my mother.” People did, in fact, take notice, and for many, including myself, Dali’s persona obscured his brilliance as an innovator. Salvador Dali’s persona and his work had an impact well beyond the art world: they had a huge influence on advertising, the culture of celebrity, and the way we see the world.
Early in my career, I felt that I had to impress and sometimes even shock people with my perspective in order to be noticed. Too often our love, in my case for my work, is tainted by our hurts, our fears, and our desperate need to be seen. It has been through the cleansing of my ego that my love has been able to show up in service; I’ve learned to listen more deeply and see as much as I can through another’s eyes. I’ve come to understand that by serving the greater good rather than my own identity, I can have the most impact and experience the most satisfaction.