Self Help

This is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who got her calling (to kill vampires with a big pointy stick) when she was in high school. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer was only the best TV show in history, and it ran on Fox from 1997-2003. ) My favorite Buffy moment was the one where she was cornered in a dark alley and faced with a new type of monster from the underworld, the likes of which she’d never seen before. He was half human/ half devil, and he was slimy and skeletal and he had fangs and burning eyes like smoldering embers and a voice like Doomsday and he loomed over her spewing threats of mayhem and destruction. 

Buffy is looking at him with boredom and impatience.  She gets a mildly preoccupied tone in her voice: “OK, OK,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I get it. You’re evil.”

This is the attitude that I take as I’m writing my new book and I face a blank page.  I tend to get a tiny bit tense when I start work each morning, and I hear voices in my head that can’t wait to give me  all kinds of information about the futility of my trying to write something new and interesting in such a boring thing as a travel memoirThe Voice wants me  to admit that I am too trivial and untalented to take up any room in contemporary culture and I should go vacuum the living room rug. God knows the whole house could use a good going-over.

Of course I must vanquish The Voice.  But not by the lame methods suggested by well-meaning “experts”: I will not write a list of reasons I should “celebrate” myself for wanting to be an artist, and I will not repeat some feel-good mantra about wholeness or light or The Right to Happiness. 

Good grief: The Voice in my head is the petty bureaucrat, the snotty waiter, the dim-witted boss, the mean girl in high school who safeguards the pecking order by belittling everyone else’s clothes, friends, looks, and brains.  The last thing  I want  to do is try to engage that Voice in a logical, rational, persuasive dialogue — it would be like trying to talk sense into Sara Palin.  No; I must use something more devastating than mere affirmations. I must face The Voice dead-on and roll my eyes and say, “OK, OK, I get it. You’re in charge.”

It turns out that The Voice has a very fragile ego and it goes to pieces when you make fun of it. 

Try it. And, if sarcasm doesn’t make your Voice shrivel up and die of embarrassment, you  can always use The VoiceVampire Slayer’s second-most powerful weapon (her joie de vivre) and just beat the snot out of it.

The topic for today is DREAMS.   Dreams in the art journal.   (Henri Rousseau, above: The Dream)

(Marc Chagall, above: the Dream)

(Rene Magritte, above: The Key to Dreams)

Dreams are hard. They are hard to remember, hard to elucidate, and very hard to paint. That is why there are so few decent dream paintings hanging in art museums, and so many nudes, when in fact, dreams are a much more universal experience than nudity. Nudes are easy. It’s just draftsmanship.

Jane Hammond is an artist who has found an interesting way to portray her dreams, which were the subject of much of her early work (approx. 1989 – 2000; then she switched to collaborating with poets who prompted her with titles they made up just for her).  If you are working on a dream journal, you might get some ideas by looking at her work and methods:

Jane collected images (cut out or copied stuff) from the kind of books you would fine in second-hand stores: old scientific journals, old children’s books, weird pamphlets about alchemy, games, religion, animals, home decor.

Then she cataloged 276 of those images into her “dream vocabulary”, and in each of her paintings she re-configured those images in unique compositions. She was using the same images over and over, but putting them in different contexts and colors, changing the associations while giving the over-all work a sense of continuity (like a re-curring dream).  I don’t know if those canvases were striving for complete accuracy — I don’t know if she actually tried to re-tell each individual dream of hers — but  her method and her presentation were intriguing, and appealed to art buyers. I have my theories about the subconscious appeal of her paintings (people need to believe that there is an order to the most intangible things in life and buying a Jane Hammond painting is a small price to pay to own a piece of that order) but there is  no denying that they have a lovely visual impact.

(It’s interesting to note that even Jane Hammond, who is not an art journalist,  knows that there is some deep under-lying appeal about any book-like object.)

So if you are struggling to present dream images in your art journal, try to think of your dreams as merely a catalog of interesting images. Then just try to get those images on a page, as if you were presenting them in a text book — the images don’t have to relate to each other in a co-herent way (spatially or thematically); in fact, it’s the gaps and space between the images that give the whole piece such imagination.  For the viewer, it’s like looking at a beautiful, long-lost language (like hieroglyphics) and that can be quite pleasant and thought-provoking.

And the dream-picture doesn’t have to be complicated to be powerful; it can be quite effective to just catalog three or four images, if that’s all you can remember from your dream. And you don’t have to get the literal dream — try using a word associations to your dream when you search for images, add a little waking-life balance (or not), throw in some fantasy.

If I have a real good dream over the weekend, I’ll show you my dreamscape on Monday. Or you can email me your dream-picture and I’ll put it up here.

3 comments to Self Help

  • You would not want to see any dream-pictures from my nocturnal movies. They make that uber-evil monster in Buffy seem like Mr. Rogers.

    Thanks for introducing us to Jane Hammond. Her work is fascinating and does have similar qualities found in art journals–the layering, the painting, even some of the images.

  • Great idea! I’ll get right on it. I know I’ve said that before but this time I really might.

  • maryann

    love it!

    emailed you my dream. no need to post it, though. was nice to think about it and capture it in some way. thank you!

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