Salvador Dali
and Surrealism

What is a Tactile Diagram?
Create a Tactile Diagram for The Persistence of Memory
Narrative for Guidance of the Hands

What is a Tactile Diagram?

The Tactile Diagram is not an exact reproduction of The Persistence of Memory. Instead, it translates the painting into a tactile language. The narrative guides you through the diagram in a logical manner. The Tactile Diagram and the narrative are designed to work together.  

hand touching tactile diagramYou can use your hands and the accompanying narrative to explore a black and white Tactile Diagram of The Persistence of Memory.

You may wish to save and print out the narrative so you can explore the Tactile Diagram at your own pace. Or you may want to listen to the entire narrative once through and then explore the diagram with the narrative.

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Create a Tactile Diagram for The Persistence of Memory

To create a Tactile Diagram, you must do four things:

  1. Download the printable Tactile Diagram of Dali's The Persistence of Memory in PDF format. (You need Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer.)
  2. Print the Tactile Diagram using an inkjet or fast laser printer.
  3. Photocopy the Diagram onto Swell Paper.
  4. Pass the Swell Paper through a heat diffusing machine or tactile fuser.

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Narrative for guidance of the hands

To explore The Persistence of Memory, make sure the diagram is in the correct position. You should feel a direction arrow in the upper right hand corner of the diagram.

First we'll examine the foreground, then the middle ground, and finally the background.

Place your hand at the lower-left corner of the diagram. You'll feel a pattern of horizontal lines. This pattern represents one side of a large rectangular form that's partially cut off by the left and bottom edges of the painting. This box-like form has planes that join at a right angle, the same way a cube is constructed. In the painting, we see two sides of this box-like form. The upper plane, which serves as a tabletop, is a horizontal-line-patterned area. The side plane is a vertical-line-patterned area. There is a diagonal thick line indicating the right angle where these two planes join.

On top of this rectangular form, which is functioning as a table, are three objects: two pocket watches and a barren tree trunk. The two pocket watches are the areas with no pattern, although each watch contains lines. And the tree trunk is the solid vertical form. It has a limb that extends to the right.

Return to the lower-left corner of the diagram. Move your hands over the entire horizontal-line and vertical-line pattern in order to get a sense of this rectangular form. From the lower-left corner, it extends about four inches up the left edge. It extends about two-and-a-half inches along the lower edge. Trace the outer border of this table-like box. It may not feel like a rectangle when you touch it. That's because this is a three-dimensional object, similar to a cube, and we're looking at its top and side. Now feel the diagonal thick line that runs through this form. This thick line is one of the corners of the rectangular box. Notice the unpatterned area that interrupts the thick line. This is one of the watches.   It drapes over the tabletop's edge.

Now, let's trace the sides and top of this box-like form in more detail. Return to the lower-left corner once again. Move to the right about two-and-a-half inches until you reach the end of the vertical-line pattern. Now follow the outline of this vertical-line pattern diagonally up to the right for two inches. Continue to follow this line straight up for another two-and-a-half inches. This bordering line then meets two other lines. One line continues straight to the left edge of the diagram to trace the outer border of the box-like form. The other line is thick and extends diagonally down to the left. This thick line is one the corners of the rectangular box. Follow this thick line diagonally down to the left. You'll cross over an unpatterned area that represents one of the watches. Continue through this area and follow this diagonal line down to the diagram's lower edge. When you reach the bottom edge, trace this edge to the right for about an inch and a half. You are now back where you started, and you've just traced the outline of the rectangle's right side. The vertical lines within this area represent the right side of this three-dimensional rectangular form.                

Now feel the horizontal-line pattern located on the left side of the diagonal thick line that indicates the corner edge of the box. This is the top surface of the box-like form. We can see the top plane of this box, which serves as a tabletop surface. Let's explore the objects sitting on this top surface of the box-like form. Move to the lower-left corner of the diagram. Now move upward about an inch and find a thickly outlined oval area with no pattern. This thickly outlined oval area contains several short thin lines. This oval form is one of the pocket watches placed on top of the box-like form. The shape of the watch is perfectly circular, but it appears oval because it's rendered in perspective. At the top of this watch is a small solid oval that is the knob for winding up the watch. Unlike the other three watches in the painting, this watch is placed with its face down. This means we can't see the numbers or hands of the face. Instead, we see the gold casing of the back of the watch. The short, thin lines within the thickly outlined oval represent a congregation of black ants crawling over the surface of the watch. The ants appear to be feeding on the watch as though it's organic and edible.

Let's continue exploring the top of this box-like form. Move your hand diagonally up to the right an inch and find another unpatterned area. This is also a pocket watch, but it seems to have melted over the side of the box. The winding knob, also a small solid oval, is on the left side of the watch. Part of the watch rests on the top surface of the box, and part of it drapes over the right side. The watch looks as though it's made of malleable wax. As it melts, it begins to lose its solid form. Or, you may imagine the round pocket watch as a limp pancake hanging over the side of a table. As you examine the face of the watch, notice the thick line that bends at a right angle. The horizontal thick line indicates the minute hand, and the vertical thick line indicates the hour hand. The numbers on the watch face are shown in the painting, but they are not included on our diagram. Since the watch is melting, it's difficult to read the exact time indicated on the watch, but it looks as though it's about five minutes before six. A winged insect crawls on the watch face. On our diagram, the insect is the oval dot above the horizontal thick line. The insect, probably a fly, stands near the numeral one.

Now, let's find the tree trunk that also stands on this box. From the top end of this melting watch where you'll find its solid-patterned knob, move diagonally up to the left a half-inch. You'll find the tree trunk, which is the solidly patterned vertical form. Follow this tree trunk upward. It extends upward about three-and-a-half inches. The tree appears to be dead and has no leaves, buds or growth of any kind on it. About halfway up the trunk, there is a branch on the right. As you follow this branch to the right, you'll find a solid-rough-patterned and an unpatterned area. This is another melting pocket watch, which hangs on the limb. The remainder of the branch is to the right of this watch.

Like the melting watch on the box, this hanging watch is also pliable and limp. Imagine it as though it's a pancake sandwiched or folded over the limb. The watch's face is toward us and its back is to the limb. We're able to see both sides hanging down from the tree. The solid-rough area on our left represents part of the back surface of the watch, and the unpatterned area on our right represents part of the watch face. At the bottom edge of the solid-rough back surface of the watch is the winding knob, which is the small solid-patterned oval. The face of the watch is on our right. It has a slightly curving, vertical thick line about an inch long running through it. This thick line represents the hand on the watch. We cannot tell whether it's the minute or hour hand, but it points to the number six. Numerals three through nine are indicated in Dali's painting, but they are not included on our diagram.

Now, let's explore the strange creature in the center of the painting. Begin in the middle of the diagram's lower edge. Move directly upward until you find a large amorphous shape in the solid-rough pattern. There are other patterns and lines on and around this form, which we'll discuss in a moment. This form looks like an animal lying on its side, although this strange creature doesn't resemble anything we've ever seen in nature. The creature is partly on the sand and partly draped over on a rock. Draped over this amorphous figure, as if it were a saddle, is another melted pocket watch. Move your hands over the form. The watch is the unpatterned area on top of the solid-rough-patterned figure. Only one watch hand is visible in the painting. This is the short slightly curving thick line near the center of the unpatterned area. Because the watch hangs upside down, the figure twelve is closest to us. The hand is just between twelve and one. The numerals nine through three on the top half of the watch are in the painting but are not shown on our diagram. The winding knob is the small solid-patterned shape just below the watch face.

Now, let's consider the animal-like form. This creature is stretched horizontally across the sand. Like the watches, it's a soft, pliable form. The creature is draped over a small rock indicated by the basket-weave-patterned areas. These basket-weave areas are both above and below its body. A smaller rock is also below the right end of the creature. The creature's head is on our left, and its tail is on our right. We see its profile, which faces the painting's lower edge. The head has a human-like nose and long eyelashes. In order to explore this profile, let's turn the diagram clockwise so that it's vertical. When we view the creature this way, the head appears to be a distorted human profile. Keep the diagram in this vertical position for a moment while we trace the profile of the animal-like form.

Move your hand to the top of this solid-rough-patterned figure. From its head, trace the curving outline down to the left an inch. The top of the curve is the figure's head. As you follow this line downward, it describes an angular protrusion on the left. This is the nose. Just below the nose is an irregular solid-patterned shape. This is a tongue, which hangs out of its mouth. Directly to the right of the tongue is a series of thin, slightly curving vertical lines. They are eyelashes, and the single thicker curving line above them is a closed eyelid. When the diagram is held in its horizontal position, as we normally view the painting, these eyelash lines are horizontal.         

Now turn the diagram back to its normal horizontal position, and we'll examine the rest of the figure more carefully. From the eyelashes, move an inch to the upper right and find the watch draped over this creature. It's the unpatterned shape. A curved thick line inside this unpatterned shape represents a hand, but we're not sure whether it's the hour or minute hand. Here, you can also find a small solid-patterned oval shape at the bottom of the watch, indicating the winding knob. From the watch, move one-half inch right to the solid-rough-patterned body of the creature. Now move up an inch and down an inch. You'll find a basket-weave-patterned shape both above and below the creature's body. This indicates the rock on which the creature's body is draped. From the area of the rock closest to us, just below the creature, move right one-half inch and locate another small basket-weave-patterned shape that is a smaller rock. From this small rock, move up one-half inch and find the solid-rough right end of this figure's body. Follow it to the right an inch. Feel its pointed tail. Notice the rest of the animal-like figure extends horizontally to the right. Its body appears smooth and featureless, as though it's a cross between a fish, a dolphin and a human. Like the watches, this animal-like form is flat and lifeless. Organic distortion frequently occurs in Dali's visual imagery, as well as that of other Surrealists. The device of merging human, vegetal and animal forms into a single unit is called metamorphosis.

We've now completed our examination of the foreground and middle ground. The large unpatterned area that surrounds the different objects is the dark sandy beach.

We'll now explore the background. Return to the tree trunk. It's the vertical solid-patterned form in the upper-left portion of the diagram. From the bottom of the trunk, move about halfway up its length. Extending an inch to the left and right of the trunk is a horizontal area with a dot pattern. Although it seems to be just above the rectangular box and just behind the tree trunk, it's actually farther away in the distance. We don't know for sure what this horizontal area is, but it appears to be a board in the sand. It's near the edge of the water, which is in the background.

Above the board is a horizontal area with a pattern of horizontal thin lines. It stretches from the diagram's left edge across the picture to the right edge. This series of horizontal lines represents the water. From left to right, follow these lines across the diagram. You'll need to cross over part of the tree trunk, the tree limb and the watch that's draped over the limb. Continue moving to the right until you reach the right edge. Above the water on the right side of the diagram is a jagged basket-weave-patterned form. This horizontal area represents the jagged cliffs that rise up from the water. The unpatterned area above the water and cliffs represents the sky. The sky near the top edge of the painting is blue. The part of the sky closer to the water is yellow, which means the sun is just below the horizon line.

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Tactile drawing of The Persisitence of Memory by Salvador Dali


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