Drawing on Dreams
If the content of your dreams were only random, they would still be worth drawing inspiration from. Like a tonalist painter 'killing' a blank canvas by scrubbing in random shapes and fields of value and color, a dream explored can at minimum serve as a softly focused beginning for the imagination to grab hold of.
However, I don't believe that dreams are random.
When I'm awake, my sense of self is that of a singular, analytical thought process. This analytical self seems to dominate against a background of thought-noise consisting of bubbles of intuition, emotions, and instincts which seemingly arise from a mysterious and inaccessible place. This noise informs and can even subvert my waking self, but under normal circumstances, the noise never becomes that singular sense of self.
When I dream, however, the self dissolves and these bubbles reign freely. Dreams are a sandbox for an unfettered mind; their content rich in intuitively constructed ideas and visualizations which the analytical mind would struggle to create. As a painter of mainly traditional realism, dreams are invaluable to connect myself to my deeper intuitive processes which I might not be totally aware of. They remind me of that aspect of my work which does not derive from observation alone.
I have many types of dreams, but here I'm going to talk about a specific sort in which I'm 'given' a visual idea explicitly. In a recent dream, I saw a fully formed (albeit simple) design. This design came with a phrase which serves as a title: "Our hauntings are mutually exclusive." This is what I saw, almost exactly:
This somewhat bleak design is, to me, rich in meaning. The two arches exist as two characters who apparently sit on the same plane. However, the fact that their shadows fall in opposite directions would imply that they perhaps exist in a shared space but at different times. Our two characters then are hopelessly separated by whatever dimension they are misaligned in, never knowing each other despite being so close.
The image was handed to me, complete with title, but with no explanation. When I awoke, my analytical mind took over and was able to articulate more of what it meant to me. Or rather, it was able to articulate /why/ this image was given to me. This is not a concept my analytical self would have easily generated on its own. And, it is not the sort of artwork I would normally engage with.
These dreams are rare, but I suspect if I were more receptive and careful to record them, I could cultivate more dreams of these types. I suggest two things. Firsty, ask your mind to dream about certain things. Ask it a question, ask it for a solution, or ask it to inform you deeper about some emotion or struggle you've been experiencing. Second, keep a sketchbook handy while you sleep, since dreams are so quickly forgotten and lost.
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