While facilitating my Dream Art Group (click to read more about the Dream Art Group), I have been spending a lot of time thinking about Spirit as it works in our dream lives and in the act of art-making as a catalyst. Making art can be a way to bring the world of dreams and the world of the waking life together for deeper understanding and transformation in our lives. I have written about my personal experience with this process in a previous CHI Newsletter (see “Embodying the Deity”). For this issue, I want to speak more generally about this amazing process and give you, the reader, some tips that can get you started on your own Dream Art journey.
Dreams provide us with our own personal myths, and in mythology, fact and fiction form a finely woven fabric of story. A myth is neither only fact nor only fiction. Dreams also belong in this middle realm, as they fall between imaginal and consensual reality.
When we encounter the fantasy elements within our dreams, often we dismiss such dreams as unhelpful. Yet we are just as quick to dismiss “unimaginative” dreams because they have no fantasy elements. Both positions are extreme and exclude the middle realm. Even the most ordinary dream can open a wide window onto a field of workable symbols and images.
When we enter a dream and work its images through an art-making process, we are embodying the dream in a whole new way. It is very similar to Fritz Perls’ Gestalt work with dream images and symbols:
“Instead of telling the dream as if it were a story in the past, act it out in the present, so that it becomes a part of yourself, so that you are really involved. …
If you understand the meaning of … some bit of a dream, each time you translate an ‘it’ into an ‘I’, you increase in vitality and in your potential.” (Perls, “Ego, Hunger & Aggression” 1969, pp. 68-70)
When we take a dream image and bring it into ourselves, letting it guide our hands and shift our perception, a new direction is given and a new path is discovered. When we pick up a crayon or a paintbrush and begin to experience the feeling of the dream as we work, our own “personal mythology” begins to show itself.
Artwork by Claire Meggs
The personal symbols appearing in our dreams are specific only to us. Just as no one can tell us what our dream means, so no one can tell us what the images and symbols in our dreams and our art mean. To one person, a snake can symbolize female power, while to another it can represent the feeling of being fake or sneaky. Thus working with powerful dream symbols in art-making is a direct way to discover our own mythology, and through doing this, we understand ourselves in a much deeper way.
Shortly before his death, Joseph Campbell spoke of the bliss of the mythologically-inspired life—where mythology is “lived” as layer upon layer of fluid metaphor, leading the self to the exalted state of being “transparent to the transcendent.”
It is important to remember that this process is not about illustrating, although there are many wonderful artists who do this kind of work. Making Dream Art is more about connecting to the energy of the dream. Through this process, the symbols present themselves.
When getting started in making Dream Art, two “mediums” are very easy and accessible. One is keeping a dream journal; the other is making collages. Both are easy to do (they do not require any technical training or special materials) and can be done relatively quickly. Combining the two is especially powerful!
In addition to being a wonderful way to track all the dreams we have, keeping a dream journal is a great tool to refer to when making dream art. Upon waking, I write the dream down in a narrative form, using the present tense so I don’t miss any details. Then, when I am ready to be more involved and delve into the deeper space of making art, I have my dream journal at the ready, full of stories and ideas. When I begin creating, I try to let go of any intention to “duplicate” anything in the dream. Sometimes when I have finished writing down the dream, I daydream while doodling on the same page. I am always amazed at how beautiful these images can look!
When collaging with a dream, a great place to start is to sit down with a pile of magazines (make sure you have a variety, not just fashion magazines or just science magazines) and other good sources for images, like catalogs and old textbooks. Look through them and tear out anything that strikes you—good or bad. (When I have a nice big pile, I like to make categories like “Monsters”, “Animals”, “Women”, “Fire,” etc.) Then sit down with the dream and identify what stands out for you emotionally. Was it a scary dream? Did it feel spiritual and calming? Enter that emotional space as completely as you can, then take some heavy paper (like card stock or poster board) and start laying out images. It is amazing what can show up in this process!
Inspired by Seena B. Frost’s SoulCollage cards, I worked with my dreams to create my own deck of personal mythology cards. All of these cards echo dreams that I have remembered. Through the process of working these dreams through art, I have had amazing insights about myself, my patterns, and my deep beliefs.
I hope you are inspired to make some art with your dreams!