Dr Neil Stanley Independent Sleep Expert
© Dr. Neil Stanley 2013-2024
Many so call serious media outlets including The Times, New Scientist, Scientific American, and so called ‘sleep experts’ have repeated the story of Salvador Dali’s alleged habit of staking a very short nap to boost his creativity. Unfortunately none of these people can be bothered to do even the most basic research. Dali fully explains his views on sleep in Chapter Two of 50 secretos "magicos" para pintar. (50 secrets of magic craftsmanship) Originally published: New York: Dial Press, 1948. His views on sleep and creativity as you can see below are completely different and vastly more complex that those set out in the stories here here here here “Know, then, that Secret Number 3 is that in undertaking an important pictorial work which you are anxious to bring to a successful completion and on which your heart is particularly set, you must before anything else begin it by sleeping as deeply, as soundly as it is possible for you to do. This is absolutely necessary, for without this inaugural sleep you almost surely run the risk that your work will be undertaken prematurely, so that the impatience and the nervous strain involved in the project will make you, so to speak, start on the wrong foot—which is almost the worst thing that could happen to you at the outset. For a pictorial work badly begun, badly launched, even with the most meritorious efforts of which your will is capable, cannot be completed successfully and with honor. Therefore be assured that in this realm of brush strokes the first shall be last—that is to say, that on the timid beginning depend not only the final and categorical touches but, I make bold to say, even the very matter of the picture and the adequacy with which it is varnished. A heavy, long and peaceful sleep will therefore be most propitious, not only to create the physical and psychic calm to be desired in order to attain the coolness necessary to face the white and menacing bull of your virgin canvas which, at the end of your faena, is to fall immortalized by the death stroke of your last touch, but also and especially, you must know that it is precisely during this sleep, which you wrongly regard as reducing you to a state of paradoxical inactivity and indifference before the imminence of the work which you are preparing to execute, that you will secretly, in the very depths of your spirit, solve most of its subtle and complicated technical problems, which in your state of waking consciousness you would never be humanly capable of solving. So that, at the moment of awakening from this precious preliminary sleep, as you are stretching and yawning voluptuously before the Immaculate Conception of your virgin and intact painting, you will be able to say to yourself, without fear of falling into exaggeration, that the principal part—that is to say the sleep—of the work is already done. It is Montaigne, here again, who enlightens us with a long list of anecdotes in which appear the names of the most illustrious emperors, philosophers and men of arms in history who had recourse to deep slumber before—and very often during—the most decisive moments of their lives. It would be possible and easy to add other illustrious names to this anthology of sleepers—Napoleon (a spectacular example); Joffre sleeping while the battle of the Marne was at its height; Hitler, habitually a prey to intractable insomnia, sleeping during crucial moments; Dali, ordinarily so active, shutting himself up, irrestibly seized by sleep amid the excitement on the eve of the opening of his ballets at the Metropolitan Opera, etc., etc. The sign “Poet at Work” which Saint Paul Roux used to put on the door of his room during his slumbers seems to me to express a much more tangible reality when applied to painters. For it is precisely in the case of the painter that before beginning his picture the stamping impatience of his conception seems materially to transform each of the bones of the phalanges of his hands into brush handles, and he seems to feel budding at their extremities the sable hairs which, as they grow, make the pink tips of his fingers prickle with anxiety, producing irresistible itches, in which it seems as if torrents of dormant deliria of exteriorization, confined since the beginnings of his atavisms, have suddenly awakened, and can no longer do otherwise than at last to break through this chrysalis-skin in order to people with their wings of color the inevitable picture, whose coming into being nothing now, whether good or evil, can hinder. Wherefore, young painter, when you feel such itches at the tips of your tender and still inexperiencd fingers, I should like you to tell yourself, as I tell you, that itches of this kind are not likely to predispose you to that calm, deep sleep which I have just recommended to you. You must agree, then, that my advice to sleep well is not so easy to act upon, in the state of creative fever in which you find yourself, and that in consequence it will be wise to continue to instruct yourself by continuing to read this book, in order to learn in what manner it will be possible for you to restore to your spirit the beneficent sleep which is to permit you to begin your work “with the right foot." To achieve a painter's slumbers will, in fact, require a long period of training. And the most characteristic slumber, the one most appropriate to the exercise of the art of painting, among all the kinds of slumbers that exist and that have existed since antiquity is the slumber which I call “the slumber with a key,"—and this is Secret Number 3—which ought to be called the slumber with a brush, if one were to replace the key by a very heavy metallic brush. This one would do if one had a little more time to devote to the ceremonial of painting. But in this world if one aspires to do something very well, or even merely well, the problem immediately becomes one not merely of sleeping but also and especially one of working very hard. You will therefore have to get up each morning very early in order to take advantage of the maximum of daylight, and for this reason you must at the outset plan the afternoon nap that will be indispensable to your efficient labors at the end of the day. But this “siesta” (as we shall call it for the moment) will have to be of very short duration. So don't be astonished if I tell you now that a half hour's sleep would even be much too much and that ten minutes would still be a good deal, and this for the simple reason that one minute would also appear to me excessive. Know, therefore, that your afternoon sleep must last less than a minute, less than a quarter of a minute, since, as you will immediately realize, a mere second is infinitely too long. This whole preamble is merely to prepare you to realize that your afternoon slumber must last less than a quarter of a second and that perhaps even this exceeds the limit, and that you must resolve the problem of “sleeping without sleeping,” which is the essence of the dialectics of the dream, since it is a repose which walks in equilibrium on the taut and invisible wire which separates sleeping from waking. And this kind of slumber, which is conscious of the fact that it does not even achieve the state of slumber, is called the “slumber with a key.” And I shall give you now one of the most naive and simple ways of practicing it. In order to make use of the slumber with a key (1) you must seat yourself in a bony armchair, preferably of Spanish style, with your head tilted back and resting on the stretched leather back. Your two hands must hang beyond the arms of the chair, to which your own must be soldered in a supineness of complete relaxation. Your wrists must be held out in space and must have been previously lubricated with oil of aspic. This is intended to facilitate the benumbing of your hands at the moment when slumber approaches, inducing the tingling that is produced when one of your members goes to sleep—a tingling which is in reality a counter pitch, the physical ants, antidotes of the psychic ones of your redoubtable impatience to paint. In this posture, you must hold a heavy key which you will keep suspended, delicately pressed between the extremities of the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Under the key you will previously have placed a plate upside down on the floor. Having made these preparations, you will have merely to let yourself be progressively invaded by a serene afternoon sleep, like the spiritual drop of anisette of your soul rising in the cube of sugar of your body. The moment the key drops from your fingers, you may be sure that the noise of its fall on the upside down plate will awaken you, and you may be equally sure that this fugitive moment when you had barely lost consciousness and during which you cannot be assured of having really slept is totally sufficient, inasmuch as not a second more is needed for your whole physical and psychic being to be revivified by just the necessary amount of repose. For it is exactly, and neither more nor less, what you needed before undertaking your virtuous afternoon labors. (2) If, on the contrary, paying a deaf ear to the call of your key, you should persist a quarter of an hour more, or even just a few minutes, this would be harmful to your work, for these few minutes of laziness would have sufficed, by themselves alone, to “enslave” you by their heaviness for the whole rest of the afternoon. For it is well known that in order to shake off the sleep of a siesta, no matter how short it may be, it is necessary to have recourse to violent physical exertions. Thus it is that only those who do heavy labor can indulge in long siestas. Those whose work is of the mind, on the other hand must only practice the slumber with a key, especially painters, extremely delicate workers, who must take care of their hands as though they were creatures apart, seeing to it that they too get their required sleep. This is so true that I have personally carried the matter to extremes, as when I used to go for walks over the paths surrounding my house at Port Lligat, wearing my arm in a sling as though it were broken in order to rest it. And sometimes, meeting some noisy friends who were curious to know what had happened to my hand, I would whisper to them, with my forefinger to my lips, “Shh! It's asleep!" * (1) I owe my knowledge of the “slumber with a key” to the fact that it was practiced by the Capuchin monks of Toledo. But many years after I learned of it, on traveling out of Geneva by automobile, my great friend, the painter Jose Maria Sert, explained to me in a memorable conversation on the different kinds of slumbers according to the arts that the slumber with a key was traditionally practiced by the aviso painters of architectonic drawings who needed for their craft an exceptionally calm and steady hand. * (2) I have discussed this matter at great length with scientists. Can the interval between the moment when the fingers let the key drop and the noise which it makes on the dish be considered “sleep?” Most of them are of the opinion that true sleep occurs only five or six seconds later. Others, on the contrary, believe that this varies according to the individual. The fall of the key may occur after one second of sleep, and all the images that precede the fall might have to be considered as hypnagogic, rather than oniric images. I personally believe that this will remain a mystery for centuries of years.”