Tonight was The Art of Dreams workshop at ChiPRC. We discussed the dream analysis theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the method of “art therapy” that Jung prescribed his to patients and practiced himself. We talked about the influence of Freudian analysis on Salvador Dali and the Surrealists. We traced dream art at least as far back as the Indigenous Australian and American cultures, and we discussed the role of dreams in ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Chinese and Indian cultures.
The historical view connects well with Jung, who believed that dream language is common to all people through time. Our dreams reveal unexplored or denied aspects of ourselves. These orphans of the psyche call out to us for ownership and integration. The purpose of this integration is to make one’s conscious self more whole, more complete. Jung sees themes of personal transformation not merely in his patients’ dreams and visions, but also in world mythology, art and storytelling. These practices speak in symbolic form of our common journey through the complexities and frustrations of life. To Jung, this is the real meaning of spirituality, the real function of myth and art.
Here’s the spooky part: the themes are so universal, so intrinsically human, that his patients would literally dream of myths they had never heard before, ancient stories with which they were unfamiliar. There are a couple of camps among so-called Jungians, and Jung himself seems to have alternated between the two positions. The materialist camp says that this language is contained in our genetic memory. We as individuals are simply born with the ability to speak this language. The mystical camp says there is a transpersonal layer of human consciousness, a layer at which we all tap into a universal mind. Both interpretations use the term “collective unconscious” to refer to the connection we share.
We spent considerable time exploring the Romantic movement, during which dreams are directly credited as being a source of inspiration for artists. Romanticism was a rebellion against the Enlightenment and Age of Reason. The Enlightenment had brought many positive discoveries and reforms, such as the Scientific Method, democracy, and the end of the “divine right of kings” and the collusion of church and state. But it also set us back in a few ways, subsuming the individual into the mass. There was an attempt to build a purely utilitarian society, ignoring our spiritual and emotional needs. There was a demystification of nature via science, the triumph of the so-called objective over the subjective and personal, and the devaluing of religion and spirituality.
Romanticism reclaimed all of that — made it heroic. It elevated the emotional, especially wild, untamed emotions like fear, horror and ecstasy. One Romantic artist we discussed in detail was William Blake. He developed an elaborate personal mythology and symbol-language, largely out of his dreams as well as waking visions. In a series of illustrated poems/prophecies, he wove a story of humanity’s liberation from established social norms. From there, we moved on to the Symbolists, who took advantage of the ambiguity of dreams. We examined the work of George Frederick Watts and Odilon Redon in detail. We then came back to Surrealism by way of Expressionism and Dada.
The three most exciting things for me personally: looking at artwork made by Carl Jung himself; looking at a book of dream illustrations hand-made by a student; and cross-referencing all of the historical information with my own development as an artist. It was fascinating to note the parallels between the Romantic revolution and my own “return to intuition” about four years ago. That’s when I started keeping a dream diary, and that’s when my artistic voice really began to speak.
Some of the books we looked at:
Coming off of this great dialogue, I can’t help but feel the excitement over my next class, The Art of Icons. We’ll be getting the same kind of overview of spiritual art traditions through the ages: everything from Tibetan mandalas to Islamic calligraphy. If you’re interested, please register now: