Visions of Sugar Plums Dancing in Their Heads for Art's Sake

by Pygoya   

Eve of December 24, 2004

A presentation to Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts when Pygoya
 visits Eugene, Oregon and  meets DIVA's Executive Director, Mary Unruh


     I once did preliminary study of comparing art preferences of individuals while conscious or in the hypnotic trance.  Although inconclusive, there seems to be the possibility that the art style we prefer in the conscious state may differ from what we prefer in a less self awareness state, such as the hypnotic trance.  Strange?  What's going on here?  Do we deceive ourselves when we buy art that we "like" for our homes or select unaware that our choices are conditioned by social and cultural guidelines?  For example, even if one covertly lusts for a pornographic work of art, would it be bought and hung in a Christian home where Bible study meetings are held?  Is it not more socially acceptable to buy a generic landscape that simply mirrors the local region?  The strongest local art market is for landscapes of palm trees and beaches in Hawaii, golden yellow and red trees of autumn in Oregon,  desert cactus and Spanish stucco dwellings in New Mexico, and Cape Cod cottage waterfronts in New England.

      I thought of my past effort to research art appreciation when I read an article in today's morning paper, "Study links dreams to sleep stages."  This latest sleep research demonstrates that the first couple of hours of REM is dominated with emotionally charged, even aggressive, dreams.  The subsequent latter six or so hours of the normal sleep cycle are characterized with more "friendly, unthreatening dreams."  According to lead researcher Patrick McNamara, professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, these socially aggressive dreams were never found to occur during non-REM sleep throughout the entire study. The study was limited to 15 sleeping college students.  The hypothesis presented for such results is that if the brain is organizing dreams in a purposeful way, then the emotional and social oriented dreams might "constrain, shape, modulate or influence the number and types of interactions that you're going to engage in during the day to come." I do remember the times, during periods of conflict with past significant others, that dreaming was dominated with the disturbing angst of life's moment; it was if I couldn't get the problem out of my mind, no escape even when I slept.  24/7.

      I see also some implications of this new dream research when it comes to understanding art appreciation. For an artist like myself, this dream study results support my approach to deliberate inclusion of psychological content within my manipulated works of art.  

     The hypnotic trance seems to overlap day dreaming during the conscious state.  Should the teacher reprimand that child in the classroom  for not paying attention or permit him or her to continue to look out the window and daydream, possibly learning in an alternative manner?  We artists tend to day dream a lot as young students.  My chronic inattentiveness in class resulted in teachers' denigration in the commentary section of my report cards,  to the chagrin of my worried parents.  In spite of it all I grew up to be a well adjusted artist.  

     It would be interesting to study the relationships between daydreaming and the almost trance-like mental mode artists work in when completely involved during the creative process.   It is a great experience to lose one's self in one's art and become one with the piece under development.  There is a satisfying sense of accomplishment when a completed work mirrors personal emotional expression, making tangible for others the artist's inner self.  Then there have been times that I fortuitously was able to wake myself up to capture images I saw in the dream.  So just what are the correlations among dreams, day dreams, and the artist's trance-like creative process?


     I believe there are different levels of human consciousness. When we transition from awake to sleep, we pass through the stages of daydreaming, then the realm of the hypnotic, before entering the dream world of REM,  and subsequent non-REM deep, almost vegetative state of sleep. To awaken we travel through the reverse order of cerebral stations.  Based upon this theory of ordered psychological states, I intentionally load my own artwork, superficially labeled "abstract," with subliminal and emotive visual elements.  The depth that I seek to elicit from the even casual viewer goes beyond what they consciously discern to comprehend.  To go beyond this initial instinctive effort to identify just what they are confronting as abstract art, is superfluous visual content laden with symbolic triggers that excite the unconscious realm of the mind,  not unlike the insightful postulations of the psychologist Carl Jung.

     Can art be significant because it is more effective than the mundane objects of our daily life in enabling us to tap areas of our brain not utilized in our normal awaken state?  For example, the passion felt when looking at "great art" that is as intense as the emotions we experience in the REM dream state?  How many times have we heard people say at art shows, simultaneously defensively and defiantly, "I don't understand art  but I KNOW WHAT I LIKE."  Is ignorance, in fact, bliss?  Or is art a catalyst that assists us to day "dream" while awake,  thereby connecting into the Jungian herd  "Universal Unconscious?"

     I am convinced that my work's attraction goes beyond competent control of formal composition - line, rhythm, color harmony, balance, varied distribution of shapes and depth, etc., but intrigue because I intentional attempt to rig  the design with metaphoric ambiguity. This supplemental content, at first hidden, exerts its presence after the initial interpretation of the work.  The viewer can be led to see is such a way through a guiding title for the abstract, such as "Black Forest," "Dancing Fumes," and "Sailing in Cyberspace."  But I believe visual interest is prolonged by incorporation of subtle details with unconscious symbolic significance. Such esoteric, unaware associations by the viewer assist in personalizing the relationship with the encountered work of art.  It makes them feel oddly anew, establishes a connection they don't quite understand, creates an interest that mystifies, targeting the urge to bond and possess.  Pretty landscape, move over!