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Monday, 24 January 2011

Dreams and Visions

I have decided that a little bit of my blogging energy needs to be redirected towards my degree. It is my final year after all! Anyway, for the moment I am not ready to give up the blog so you will just have to deal with posts with a slightly more limited theme. Nevertheless I can't help the distractions and inadvertences which naturally come after hours of study. So the links between what I write and my degree will sometimes be tenuous, perhaps exciting.

Women, bird and snake in front of the sun, Joan Miro

I've just started my work on a new paper, Medieval Dreams and Visions, and I have been reading a lot of dream theory and a lot of debates about the relationship between dream and art, truth and fiction. I can't help thinking back to Joan Miro in Barcelona. Beginning in 1925 Miro painted around a hundred dream paintings in an attempt to represent the unconscious.

'Dream is something quite separate from reality as experienced in the waking state; one might almost say it represents a hermetically sealed existence, divided from real life by an unbridgeable gulf. It detaches us from reality, erases normal recall of the same in us, and places us in a different world and in a quite different life-story, which deep down has nothing to do with the real one.' Hildebrandt

The Surrealists were constantly trying to expose deep, hidden meanings in their art by using methods such as automatic writing and the 'Exquisite Corpse' which involved choosing words at random from the dictionary. Miro's dream paintings reduce the world to symbols and archetypes; stars, women, birds, fish and animals drawn together in a constellation of representation.

The question in the medieval period was whether any truth or prophecy could be extracted from the unstructured images of the dream. This question still seems relevant in Miro, beyond the poetry of his canvases is there any higher wisdom being communicated? What can the dreamer, the viewer of Miro's painting, bring back in to the real world? A sense of beauty, a thing close to comprehension perhaps, but not the full knowledge of the thing.

The other question (which I might have to answer today in my seminar) is whether there can be art about an insignificant dream? Doesn't the pure communication of it make it significant? If you have a dream and tell no one, it is more than likely that it will disappear, when you try to recall it at the end of the day you find that it has dissolved. But if you repeat the dream, the articulation of it usually means that it resists that dissipation for a while longer.

Chaucer reading to the court

Chaucer is not quite as abstract as Miro, perhaps his meaning is easier to read.


  1. Oh,I see now why you commented on my blog just now re the Miro similarity- Henryk Szydlowski is clearly influenced by his work! Great blog. Its sometimes so hard to put such things into words but I think the exciting thing about this kind of work is just how much it offers- aesthetically pleasing with layers of meaning as well.

  2. There's such a thing as productive misinterpretation....I think those Surrealists misinterpreted Freud. But it was so productive. And anyway I love Miro. By the way, we have to be self-disciplined in order not to be distracted by the internet....let's use the blogs strategically :)

  3. I love the comparison you drew between Miro and medieval art, using the theme of dreams! I am not familiar with the Chaucer image, so I am not sure how it relates to dreams, however. I hope you share more posts about this topic, as I think medieval art gets passed by a lot here in America!
    Good luck on your paper!

  4. I am in Jude-like awe of your new paper. The Chaucer is exquisite. I had a dream recently that lingered with me on waking. I eventually went downstairs and drew the image with charcoal. It eventually was done in ink but I had to get the image down before it left me. So, this post is fascinating to me.

  5. Thank you, I'm glad you all enjoyed it. The Chaucer is actually a picture of him reading to an audience, so isn't necessarily specifically about art. Although I will be looking out for some medieval dream art. Dolly that sounds like just the kind of dream experience I a going to be thinking about.
    I like the idea of 'productive misinterpretation' as well.

  6. I am still very taken with this post. I had been planning on doing a post anyway about this image, drawn from my dream before it could evaporate. How important it was for me to get it on paper quickly. The idea for the post has been on the back burner but your post has inspired me to tell the story. Would you mind if I put in a link to it please? If it wasn't for you it would still be sitting on the back burner! You are welcome to email me direct at

  7. Of course I don't mind you linking Dolly, you didn't even need to ask. Also I am looking forward to seeing the drawing.

  8. Ok thanks, I have taken it off the back burner so stay tuned! By the way, I shall be defo walking around parts of London after I arrive on Friday. Knightsbridge as I mentioned, but also Bloomsbury so I may bump into the ghosts of the 3 V's as I call them: Virginia, Vanessa and Vita :-) sure they figure prominently in your dissertation?

  9. Miro and Kandinsky have similar styles. Kandinsky also had hidden meaning in much of his work. Though Kandinsky had some definite architectural and geometry skills, both Miro and Kandinsky were into abstraction and expressed spiritual visions through their art. If you compare Miro and Kandinsky they use very similar colors and textures.