25 Outrageous Quotes from Salvador Dalí

His art wasn’t the only thing that could be a bit surreal.
Salvador Dalí, circa 1960.
Salvador Dalí, circa 1960. / Paul Almasy/GettyImages

Salvador Dalí, a leader of the Surrealist movement, is arguably one of the world’s most famous artists—but his creative talents went far beyond the art world. From stage plays to movies to fashion to photography to architecture, the Catalonia, Spain-born master was a creative renaissance man. He was something a philosopher, too, as the below quotes show.

1. On Ambitions:

“At the age of 6 I wanted to be a cook. At 7 I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.”

2. On “the Sacred Aspect of Mustaches”:

“Since I don’t smoke, I decided to grow a mustache—it is better for the health. However, I always carried a jewel-studded cigarette case in which, instead of tobacco, were carefully placed several mustaches, Adolphe Menjou style. I offered them politely to my friends: ‘Mustache? Mustache? Mustache?’ Nobody dared to touch them. This was my test regarding the sacred aspect of mustaches.”

3.On the Duty of an Artist:

photo of Salvador Dali
Salvador Dalí, 1964. / Terry Fincher/GettyImages

“A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”

4. On the Impossibility of Perfection:

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.”

5. On Being Dalí:

“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy—the joy of being Salvador Dalí—and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?”

6. On the Importance of Ambition:

Salvador Dalí, 1951.
Salvador Dalí, 1951. / George Konig/GettyImages

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”

7. On Drugs:

“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.”

8. On Memories:

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”

9. On Normalcy:

Salvador Dali with Magnified Eye
Salvador Dalí, 1955. / Hulton Deutsch/GettyImages

“I am not strange. I am just not normal.”

10. On Embracing Mistakes:

Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly. After that, it will be possible for you to sublimate them.”

11. On the Upside of Imitation:

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”

12. On Embracing Happiness:

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dalí, 1973. / Ulf Andersen/GettyImages

“There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”

13. On Poetry and Idiocy:

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

14. On Being Mysterious:

“People love mystery, and that is why they love my paintings.”

15. On the True Measure of Success:

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dalí, 1958. / Keystone/GettyImages

“The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.”

16. On Snobbery:

“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”

17. On Finding Your Own Style:

“Begin by learning to draw and paint like the old masters. After that, you can do as you like; everyone will respect you.”

18. On Keeping Secrets:

Salvador Dali
Salvador Dalí, 1973. / Keystone/GettyImages

“The secret of my influence has always been that it remained secret.”

19. On Surrealism:

Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

20. On Good Taste:

“It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.”

21. On the Honesty of Drawing:

Spanish painter Salvador Dali (1904-1989) here as a child c. 1906
Salvador Dalí, 1906. / Apic/GettyImages

“Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.”

22. On the Pain of Washing Clothes:

“It’s better to have loved and lost than do 40 pounds of laundry a week.”

23. On Being Serious:

“It is not necessary for the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.”

24. On the Madness of the Creative Process:

Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí, 1961. / Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/GettyImages

“There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”

25. On Life Imitating Art:

“I do not paint a portrait to look like the subject, rather does the person grow to look like his portrait.”

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A version of this story originally ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2024.