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Dream

Antiquity, The Bible In The Middle Ages, Saints And Holy People, East And West

It is midnight in the desert, and the full moon has just passed its apex. On the sandy ground, staff in hand, guitar and jug by his side, a dark-skinned man is nuzzled by a tawny-maned lion. Is the man dreaming? Are we? Or is this the dream of the artist, Henri Rousseau (1844–1910)? If, as some traditions have it, the Universe was dreamed into existence by its Creator, then it makes perfect sense that all of art—the microcosm created by human beings in emulation of the Creator's macrocosm—is a dream of sorts. And art is a dream, in a way—a projection of the deepest subconscious and unconscious desires upon canvas and stone, the etching plate and the loom. But when artists depict dreams and dreaming, whether explicitly, with the dreamer in the picture, or implicitly, with the picture illustrating the dream, ambiguities flourish, and polyvalency abounds.

There are many loci classici of the dream in art, in many times, places, and cultures. Some are explicit, yet ambiguous, like Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy of 1897. Some are explicit and distinctly unambiguous, such as Francisco Goya's (1746–1826) Capricho 43: El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos (1797–1798, "The Sleep/Dream of Reason Begets Monsters") or Henry Fuseli's (1741–1825) The Nightmare (1781) where dreams are made manifest in oil on canvas. Even those depictions in which the intention to depict a dream is overt are fraught with a multiplicity of interpretive possibilities—Maurice Sendak's (b. 1928) nightmare creatures in Where the Wild Things Are (1963) are both the products of the dreams of Max, the young protagonist, and of Sendak's own family history, wherein those things that go bump in the night are stand-ins for his loud, invasive, cheek-pinching aunts and uncles.

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