Dreams: Unconscious Creations in Art

Hi everyone! It’s a been a while since I posted anything new and as I’ve had troubles sleeping these past couple weeks, I’ve done a lot of thinking about dreams. I have both the blessing and the curse of remembering them vividly but they rarely ever effect my daily life. It’s difficult to imagine any of these dreams changing my life in any significant way, let alone impacting the world. For many artists, their dreams do just that and in the 1960s, delving beyond the realm of consciousness appealed to many people. What I find the most inspiring about these dream-stories is, these artists don’t incorporate dreams into their philosophy and, as far as I know, practice lucid dreaming. They simply stumbled upon something beautiful and decided to use it.

“It was fairly mystical when I think about it. It was the only song I ever dreamed.”

Paul McCartney, On Yesterday

Paul McCartney

One of the greatest songs McCartney ever wrote, Yesterday, came to him in a dream and it’s such a good song, it’s almost surprising that he admits it. Apparently, he played it immediately after waking up and feared he may have remembered it from somewhere else. The lyrics took awhile longer to come to him but I personally like the original filler, “Scrambled eggs. Oh, baby how I love your legs.”

Although I’m a major Beatles fan, I have to admit they were more arrogant than other 60s Artists (they were also about ten years younger than my favorite painters and experienced a wild amount of success much earlier in life.) I don’t believe dreaming art takes away from any genius or credit someone should receive but I can understand why that’s a popular opinion. McCartney could have easily attributed it all to his own genius, and although he still told a great story, it’s one that really connects him to these visual artists who valued dreams and ideas of art outside the self ( he was friends with Richard Hamilton and probably very aware of many artistic philosophies at the time). Whether he intended it or not, I think the story speaks to his belonging as a 60s artist at heart.

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns with Flag, 1955

In 1955, Father of American Pop Art, Jasper Johns had a dream where he painted the American Flag. Soon after he awoke, he painted it in real life and it went on to become one of the post famous paintings in post WWII art. If we examine the heavy paint blotches and the slight abstractness of the flag, we see again another blending between “art and life” or, if you are new to this blog, a kind of haziness that has the appearance of something from a dream-world. Johns often uses familiar symbols in his work that are up to the interpretation of the viewer. The American flag is a familiar symbol to everyone but it does not inspire the same feelings in all of us. Johns himself claimed to be objective towards this meaning wanting the viewer to interpret it however she wishes. At the risk of over-analyzing, we can think of the symbols in our dreams the same way. They are familiar to us and they likely mean something but what do they mean? Johns, of course, wasn’t bothered by this mystery. He used it to invite us into his work thus combining “art and life.”

What I love the most about these stories are dreams coming to the artists like opportunities. Instead of attributing it all to their own genius, they take a more humble approach and focus on the art itself. As I share more about these amazing artists, I hope it becomes apparent they never relied on genius as much as an appreciation for life and were genuine, even selfless, in that way. They appreciated things for existing and were inspired by a love of life which is something I want to do more often.