“The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Dreams are full of endless, unpredictable possibilities, and scientists have been trying to figure out what a dream is and why we do it. Research suggests that it is a way that your brain tries to condense your memories of the previous day. An artist will tell you that it is an outlet for your unspent imagination.
One of the best-known depictions of a dream is The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli. As always with art, due to the viewer's interpretation, it makes for a very relatable and chilling painting. What is the dark figure? Is it a demon? Anxiety? A nightmare? People have commented that after viewing the painting, they felt the oppressive weight of the dark creature sitting atop their own chest. Whatever feeling the piece invokes from you is correct and is a testament to the power of art.
Although the wondrous dreamscapes we get from the likes of Fuseli or Da Vinci are a marvel, due to financial, religious, or familial reasons, artists were not always allowed the freedom to paint what they wanted. There was a time when the church had a chokehold over the art scene, and artists were used to push a religious agenda by creating works to ensure the piety of the masses. Artists who were not religious still took the work because that’s where the paid commissions were.
It wasn’t until much later that the art scene breathed a sigh of relief. This was thanks to a new way of thinking brought on by a further understanding of how the world works. The Romantics brought change and a sense of freedom for artists. They also spearheaded a new wave of work that focused on dreaming.
A group of German romantics coined the term “Zweite Welt” or “Second World” when referring to dreaming, which is aptly named because they really did delve into a new world for the sake of their art. They spent most of their time trying to reach a higher plane of consciousness. This was done by taking various substances and experimenting with things like periods of solitude or being out in nature. It was important to them to see how various settings changed their dreams. Then they would put those dreams on a canvas.
There is no end to the number of iconic works that have been inspired by dreams. These pieces offer a chance for self-reflection and show us that we’re not all so different from each other. Have you ever drawn from a dream? If not, you should give it a try. It may surprise you what fascinating things you come up with when you’re asleep.