This paper will be looking into and researching how Salvador Dali’s ‘Venus De Milo with Drawers’ (1936), associates with male anxieties. This will be done by looking into Freudian concept, as well as other psychologists, on castration fear and the male desire of women. Sex is a common concept for art and this paper will explore if Dali’s art piece gives this impression.
Looking into Salvador Dali’s Venus De Milo with Drawers takes influenced by Alexandros of Antioch’s The Aphrodite of Milos, that was discovered back in April 1820 buried inside a niche from the ancient city of Milos. The Aphrodite of Milos is the Greek goddess of love and beauty,
and is widely known for her mysterious missing arms. “My first experience as a sculptor gave me an unknown and delicious erotic joy.” (Salvador Dali, 1936)
When looking at the fabric on Venus, it is shown to be falling off of her body and revealing her. When a male looks at the woman’s body it can invoke pleasure but can also develop castration anxieties and can lead to fetishize. The female body can bypass the hazard of castration anxiety. “probably no male human being is spared the fright of castration at the sight of female genital.” (Freud, 1927, p154). The female body can be invested with magical qualities which can disown the fear of castration. These body parts can have a significant power over men, body parts that are full of meaning, as they can deny the absence of a penis.This is because in a man’s mind a woman does indeed have a penis, in spite of the actual lack of penis. But the penis is actually no longer the same as it once was, and something else has taken its place. (McDonald in Hollows, Jancovich (eds). 1995, p88).
Taking a closer look at the draping fabric, which is only covering her bottom half, it draws the viewers attention away from her genitals and directs it towards the breasts. In some sense, clothing provides the boundaries of the body and grants the contained and complete self. In the reverse however, it can actually threaten, like uncertainty of the bodies borders and edges, (Warwick and Cavallero, 1998:25). The introduction of the drawers is a long significant line of indignities and objectiveness throughout Dali’s continuing creative process, which was a direct response to Freudian concepts.The drawers symbolize the action of putting things in and taking things out. This could be a metaphor for sex, a man putting his penis inside a woman, which could be linked back to castration fear as the draws are placed all over apart from her genitals and in places that men desire. As everyone knows, most surrealists were men and to be sure they included women “but as sites of desire more than as subjects of desire”. (Foster, 2001, pp203-207). Many artworks demonstrate femininity that can be seen, for instance most show women as the “object of the male gaze”. (Foster, 2001, pp203-207) The empty drawer that’s placed on her head is Dali showing Venus has no brain or even suggesting the viewer how easy it is to put thoughts inside a woman’s head. (Foster, 2001)
The way Dali portrays Venus is like he was trying to give a function to a ‘useless women’. So by making Venus into a chest of drawers somewhat proves how Dali, if not all men, see women as an object and can even be viewed as taking away what little power women had. With the drawers being open, it suggests the boundaries from the body have been removed and almost gives away the secrets of her insides. “that which does respect borders, positions, rules… that which disturbs identity system, order” (Kristeva, 1982 cited in Creed, 1993, p8). The liminal body is never shown in traditional and classic statues, with no openings or orifices. With open drawers her body threatens to unravel, not holding itself together. (Coxon, 2007:288) (Stallybrass and White, 1986, p22) (Halberstam, 1995, p37).
To conclude, the male gaze and anxieties are apparent throughout Salvador Dali’s work, demonstrated by the location of the fabric and the drawers in the sculpture of Aphrodite with castration fear also clear within his work. The pom poms placed on each drawer also link to castration fear, alongside the draping fabric highlighting key feminine features. This is one example of how there is a deep link between psychology and art, suggesting how the extremes of the human psyche can influence artists work.