February 7, 2010

CHAPTER IV - 4.3 Other Inspirations of Dreams.

4.3 Other Inspirations of Dreams.

As previously discussed, dreams always contribute mankind to create. Almost anything we see in a dream can be put on canvas. It is reasonable to accept that dreams can inspire lots of artists to paint, musicians to compose and writers to create remarkable stories. But, have you thought of dreams may also contribute to architect and even to the world of science? Architectural design is considered as a visual art, but it differs from those it has discussed before. It involves engineering, and must operate within fixed structural limits. An artist can paint a building floating in air but an architect could not build it. However, some architects have translated some of their dreams into reality. In the following it presents more evidences of the contribution of dream, from the worlds of art to the arena of science.   

Picture: The Flag by Jasper Johns, 1954

 In the word of art, Jasper Johns, an American Pop Artist, born in 1930, his own artistic aspirations led him to New York where he painted for several years without finding his unique artistic vision until he dreamed it in the form of a large American flag in 1954. He dreamed himself painting a large American flag, and the next day he began exactly that project, later titled simply Flag. Later, a series of flag pictures followed, which led Johns as a major pop artist. Johns later told an interviewer, “I have not dreamed of any other painting. I must be grateful for such a dream!” He laughed. “The unconscious thought was accepted by the conscious gratefully.”(1)

Later on, Jasper Johns’s Flag, a based on dream art work, is specifically classified by the art world as a prime example of the genre called Realism.

Picture: Brushstrokes Cut in 20 Squares and Arranged by Chance by Ellsworth Kelly, 1951

Another inspired dream led Ellsworth Kelly, American painter, to develop his abstract geometric assemblies of multiple canvases from a similar dream experience as Jasper Johns. Kelly dreamed he was working on a huge whirled splatter painting like the ones his sixth graders did. In the dream, he had the idea of cutting up the canvas and arranging the resulting sixteen pieces in a grid, with their stronger lines flowing horizontally. After Kelly awoke, he sketched the grid, and wrote an account ending, “In this dream is something I have been waiting for.” Another of his painting was called Brushstrokes Cut in 20 Squares and Arranged by Chance. The brushstrokes are deliberately arranged horizontally as in the dream. The only difference from the dream’s dictation was to move from a sixteen to a twenty segment grid. After that, Kelly repeated this kind of theme for more than a year, and the resulting images established his great reputation.(2)

In literature, Graham Greene reported that “when an obstacle seems insurmountable, I read the day’s work before sleep and leave the unconscious to labor in my place. When I wake, the obstacle has nearly always been removed: the solution is there and obvious – perhaps it came in a dream which I have forgotten.” In a period of financial stress, he dreamed that he had been sentenced to prison for five years and separated from his wife. This dream served a dual purpose for his next novel, It’s a Battlefield, both by providing him with impetus to get started on it and by giving him the basics of the plot. Another of his novels, The Honorary Consul, also began with a dream. Greene recorded his dreams everyday and allowed them to be published as A World of My Own: A Dream Diary. Also, the American writer William Burroughs noted, “A good part of my material comes from dreams. A lot of it is just straight transcription of dreams with some amplification, of course.” Moreover, Stephen King noted, “I think that dreams are a way that people’s minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language.”

In architecture, Lucy Davis, Chief Architect at a major North Carolina firm, dreams many of her designs. In one example of her dream, she dreamed of a person whose outstretched arms turned into a ship with a prow pointed at the same angle. Then it became a house she was walking through. There was a section with clerestory windows; the beams crossed and created the shape of the windows. After the dream, Davis built the house in the Y shape of the person’s arms and the boat’s prow, and put in the windows exactly as she had seen them in the dream. “The overall plan came from the abstract part of the dream,” Davis says. “The window details were more literally translated.” Later on, the finished house eventually received a several page layout in an architecture magazine. “I’ve designed at least a dozen to fifteen houses this way.” Davis says, “It typically happens when I’ve worked on a project but I’m not really getting anywhere. Those tend to be the ones that pop out in the dream process. I remember one house I was kind of stuck on and I had a dream that I went to a party in the finished house – that solved it! It was an incidental detail to the dream, but crucial to waking life.”(3)

Picture: The Dream Palace by Ferdinand Cheval, 1836-1924

Another example, The Dream Palace, a historic monument and it is a nowadays leading tourist attraction in the French province of Drôme. It is a structure that an untrained postman, Ferdinand Cheval, carved into a rock hillside during approximately 93,000 of his off-duty hours over thirty-three years. The Dream Palace completed in 1912. The palace winds irregularly over thirty yards, studded with fantastic animals and ornate arched corridors. This disorder of styles and the influences of different cultures found their way into Cheval’s creation. After several years, Picasso and Breton described the palace as the architectural expression of the Surrealist movement. It has been mentioned in chapters on dream art as a dream creation, and there are quotes from Cheval translated as, “I dreamed of this palace for years before beginning it,” and “I first saw the palace in my dreams.” However, the French use the word ‘reve’ just as we use the word dream, to denote both sleeping hallucinations and daytime goals. Cheval’s longer descriptions of the palace’s design indicate it is the result of the latter. He makes it clear that he first got the idea when looking at a misaddressed book on Moorish architecture that had been returned to his post office as undeliverable. He imagined further details and searched for an appropriate location while making his daily rounds for years before construction of the dreamlike, but not dreamed, structure.(4)  

The field of music, too, owes some of its famous pieces to unplanned creative dreams. Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), the Italian violinist and composer, had such a dream. Tartini related that at the age of twenty-one he had a dream in which he sold his soul to the Devil. “But how great was my astonishment when I heard him play with consummate skill a sonata of such exquisite beauty as surpassed the boldest flights of my imagination. I felt enraptured, transported, enchanted; my breath was taken away, and I awoke. Seizing my violin I tried to retain the sounds I had heard. But it was in vain. The piece I then composed, the ‘Devil’s Sonata,’ was the best I ever wrote, but how far below the one I had heard in my dream!(5)

Most people rarely hear music in their dreams. Researchers examining five thousand dreams from one thousand college students, found that 1.5 percent of accounts contained any reference to sounds.(6) Brain activity in dreaming likely reflects waking priorities in which most of our sensory cortex is devoted to visual processing. 

In the world of invention, in 1844, Elias Howe had begun to design the prototype of a sewing machine, but couldn’t figure out how the machine was to hold a needle. One night Howe dreamed he was captured by savages who threatened to kill him if he didn’t finish the machine right away. In the dream, “he saw himself surrounded by dark-skinned and painted warriors, who formed a hollow square about him and led him to the place of execution. Suddenly he noticed that near the heads of the spears which his guards carried, there were eye-shaped holes. He had solved the secret! What was needed was a needle with an eye near the point! He awoke from his dream and at once made a model of the eye-pointed needle, with which he brought his experiments to a successful close.”

The following is from Anthony Steven's book Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming: “As a young man, Albert Einstein dreamed he was speeding down a steep mountainside on a sled. He went faster and faster and as he approached the speed of light he noticed that the stars above him were refracting light into spectra of colors that he had never seen before. This image impressed him so deeply that he never forgot it, maintaining that his entire scientific achievement had seen the result of meditating on that dream. It provided the basis of the thought experiment through which he worked out the principle of relativity.”

Researchers show that dreams solving scientific problems are more likely, however, to come from the sleep onset state, which occurs immediately upon falling asleep or just before awakening. This is what Salvador Dali’s “Slumber with a Key” technique, described in previous section of Surrealism, seeks to create. Dreams in this way provoke more logical thinking about what the visual images mean. The sleep onset state is the next closest state to waking in terms of brain wave patterns, and it is in these half awake state, where the two realities, dream and waking, interact together. The dreamer can critically evaluate images while they are still before the eyes.

There are thousands of records about the creativity inspired by dreams found in many books and articles, and it is beyond the scope to list them all here. Most of the examples shown above are likely that the dreamer dreams the solution of the problem (case like Jasper Johns) or the dream provides the mood or idea from which the product evolves later in a waking state (case like the sewing machine). According to Dr. Patricia Garfield, “creative dreaming happens in two ways: In the first, dreamers observe the creative product in its totality in the dream. At other times, the dream provides the mood or idea from which the creative product evolves in a waking state.”(7)

Can this kind of dream experiences happen to everybody? How does dream solve problem? Neurology suggests that dreaming is simply the mind thinking in a different biochemical mode. Throughout this emotional, visual, hallucinatory state, we continue to worry about personal, practical, or artistic problems – and occasionally we solve them. In the following chapter, it discusses if creative dreams only happen to certain people or all of us.

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