Dream art

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Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes: The Dream, 1883

Dream art is any form of art directly based on material from dreams, or which employs dream-like imagery.


References to dreams in art are as old as literature itself: the story of Gilgamesh, the Bible, and the Iliad all describe dreams of major characters and the meanings thereof. However, dreams as art, without a "real" frame story, appear to be a later development—though there is no way to know whether many premodern works were dream-based.

In European literature, the Romantic movement emphasized the value of emotion and irrational inspiration. "Visions", whether from dreams or intoxication, served as raw material and were taken to represent the artist's highest creative potential.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Symbolism and Expressionism introduced dream imagery into visual art. Expressionism was also a literary movement, and included the later work of the playwright August Strindberg, who coined the term "dream play" for a style of narrative that did not distinguish between fantasy and reality.

At the same time, discussion of dreams reached a new level of public awareness in the Western world due to the work of Sigmund Freud, who introduced the notion of the subconscious mind as a field of scientific inquiry. Freud greatly influenced the 20th-century Surrealists, who combined the visionary impulses of Romantics and Expressionists with a focus on the unconscious as a creative tool, and an assumption that apparently irrational content could contain significant meaning, perhaps more so than rational content.

The invention of film and animation brought new possibilities for vivid depiction of nonrealistic events, but films consisting entirely of dream imagery have remained an avant-garde rarity. Comic books and comic strips have explored dreams somewhat more often, starting with Winsor McCay's popular newspaper strips; the trend toward confessional works in alternative comics of the 1980s saw a proliferation of artists drawing their own dreams.

In the collection, The Committee of Sleep, Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett identifies modern dream-inspired art such as paintings including Jasper Johns's Flag, much of the work of Jim Dine and Salvador Dalí, novels ranging from "Sophie's Choice" to works by Anne Rice and Stephen King and films including Robert Altman's Three Women, John Sayles Brother from Another Planet and Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. That book also describes how Paul McCartney's Yesterday was heard by him in a dream and Most of Billy Joel's and Ladysmith Black Mambazo's music has originated in dreams.

Dream material continues to be used by a wide range of contemporary artists for various purposes. This practice is considered by some to be of psychological value for the artist—independent of the artistic value of the results—as part of the discipline of "dream work".

The international Association for the Study of Dreams[1] holds an annual juried show of visual dream art.

Notable works directly based on dreams[edit]

Visual art[edit]

  • Many works by William Blake (1757–1827)
  • Many works by Salvador Dalí (1904–1989)
  • Many works by Man Ray
  • Many works by Max Magnus Norman
  • Many works by Elle Nicolai
  • Many works by Odilon Redon (1840–1916)
  • Many works by Jonathan Borofsky (born 1942)
  • Many works by Jim Shaw (born 1952)
  • Many works by David Reisman (born 1958)[2]
  • Many works by Jane Gifford (www.janegifford.co.uk)
  • The works of Alan Sweeney [3]
  • Online illustrated daily dreams of Robin Whitmore [4]
  • Many works by Kevin Coffee [5]
  • Many works by Carl Linkhart [6]
  • Alfredo Arcia's art [7]
  • Sheila Heldebrand Toth's collages [8]
  • Art presented on exhibitions of the International Association for the Study of Dreams [9]





Works intended to resemble dreams, but not directly based on them[edit]



  • A Dream Play (1901) and other plays by August Strindberg during his Symbolist and Expressionist periods
  • Copacabana by Barry Manilow (born 1947)



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lawler, Karen (October 5, 2012). "Flying Lotus – Until The Quiet Comes". State. County Kildare. Archived from the original on 2012-10-20. Retrieved 2012-10-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dieterle, Bernard and Engel, Manfred (eds.). The Dream and the Enlightenment / Le Rêve et les Lumières. Paris: Honoré Champion 2003, ISBN 2-7453-0672-3.
  • Dieterle, Bernard and Engel, Manfred (eds.). Writing the Dream / Écrire le rêve (= Cultural Dream Studies 1). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2017, ISBN 978-3-8260-6120-2.

External links[edit]