High School Dreamers: Using Mind Movies as Inspiration for Artwork

By Peterson, Margaret | Art Education, November 2002 | Go to article overview

High School Dreamers: Using Mind Movies as Inspiration for Artwork


Peterson, Margaret, Art Education


Dream imagery has captured the imagination of artists at various times in the history of art. York High School, Elmhurst, Illinois, itt teacher John Randle (personal communication, October 5, 1999) recalls his favorite story of artist-- dreamer Salvador Dali who wrote in an autobiography that he used to sit down in a comfortable armchair. Just as he was about to nap, he would put a very large metal key in his hand. As he drifted off to sleep, his hand would release the key, and it would hit the floor with such a large bang that he would wake up and write down his dream. Dali claimed that right at the beginning of a dream you have your strongest images as you drift from consciousness to unconsciousness. These dream images were a rich source of his artistic imagery.

Overview: Dreams as Inspiration

Giant keys are no longer in common use, but the spirit of Dali's inspiration might provide a wealth of material for today's art teacher. You are probably wondering how the material can be organized and presented to high school art students whose lives are filled with working, driving their cars, babysitting, playing Nintendo, listening to music, or experimenting with sex, drugs, and alcohol. How can young adults find meaning in an esoteric subject like dreams?

In the past my students have resorted to a caricature of a dream image (a ghost or other Halloween imagery) rather than recognizing their real mind movies: images they create themselves. This article maintains that high school art students, using any media, can be guided into use of their own dream images as subjects for their artwork. Students can be taught to become aware of these images, and the teacher can organize lesson plans that validate and acknowledge student dream imagery in their artwork.

Theoretical Framework: Dreams in Science and Psychology

Having been diagnosed with periodic limb disorder, commonly known as "jumping legs," I became interested in sleep clinics because I had recently spent a night at one. My head, limbs, and chest were hooked up to monitors with more than 20 wires. My every movement and brain wave were recorded. I laughingly wondered if they could even read my dreams. The sleep clinic physician assured me that dreams are considered a very real object of study.

"Dreaming is just another altered state," says Dr. Kathy Sexton-Radek (personal communication, October 4, 1999) of Suburban Pulmonary and Sleep Associates in Westmont, Illinois, "and is one of many outlets in which people can express them-selves." "Hmmm," I thought, a scientist recognizes the power of dreams as an outlet or source of ideas and of ways to expand the possibilities of our thinking.

"Dreams are a clarification of unfinished thoughts," mused Dr. Sexton-Radek, who is also chairperson of the psychology department at Chicago suburban Elmhurst College. "They are a trying-out ground... to get out ideas of alternative thinking." Her comment reminded me of something I had read in a college psychology course.

In a chapter by Jung (pp. 18-103) in Man and His Symbols (Jung et al., 1972) the author proposes that dreams are powerful messengers. His example is the story of the 19th-century German physicist Kekule who dreamt of a snake lying in a circle with its tail in its mouth. When he awoke, the image suggested to him what could be (and then proved to be) the form of a closed carbon ring, the molecular structure of benzene.

Scientists discovering something new and artists finding imagery are all within the power of dreams. "In the history of dreaming," states Sexton-Radek, "there's the Ah-ha! phenomenon when people dream about the day's question and then wake up in the morning with an answer," like Kekule's dream of a snake suggesting a carbon structure, or a shell dream suggesting a gallery art show piece.

The "Ah-ha" of Transforming a Shell Dream: Art and Teaching

As an artist I have used a Red Shell dream in an installation piece. …

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