Dream art  

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Poem of the Soul, Nightmare (1854) by Louis Janmot
Poem of the Soul, Nightmare (1854) by Louis Janmot

"And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, 'Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?' and sometimes, 'Do bats eat cats?' for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream ..."--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll

"Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair: it is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity; and, also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, "all that cometh is vanity.""--The Pilgrim's Progress (1678) by John Bunyan

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a print by Francisco Goya from the Caprichos series
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a print by Francisco Goya from the Caprichos series
Little Nemo sitting upright in bed
Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

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Dream art is any form of art directly based on material from dreams, or which employs dream-like imagery. Famous examples in the visual arts include Poem of the Soul, Nightmare (1854) by Louis Janmot, Jacob's Ladder (c. 1800) by William Blake, The Nightmare (1781) by Henry Fuseli and The Sleep of Reason (1799) by Goya.



References to dreams in art are as old as literature itself: the story of Gilgamesh, the Bible, and the Iliad all describe dreams of major characters such as Callum and the meanings thereof. However, dreams as art, without a "real" frame story, appear to be a later development—though there is no way to know whether many premodern works were dream-based.

In European literature, the Romantic movement emphasized the value of emotion and irrational inspiration. "Visions", whether from dreams or intoxication, served as raw material and were taken to represent the artist's highest creative potential.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Symbolism and Expressionism introduced dream imagery into visual art. Expressionism was also a literary movement, and included the later work of the playwright August Strindberg, who coined the term "dream play" for a style of narrative that did not distinguish between fantasy and reality.

At the same time, discussion of dreams reached a new level of public awareness in the Western world due to the work of Sigmund Freud, who introduced the notion of the subconscious mind as a field of scientific inquiry. Freud greatly influenced the 20th-century Surrealists, who combined the visionary impulses of Romantics and Expressionists with a focus on the unconscious as a creative tool, and an assumption that apparently irrational content could contain significant meaning, perhaps more so than rational content.

The invention of film and animation brought new possibilities for vivid depiction of nonrealistic events, but films consisting entirely of dream imagery have remained an avant-garde rarity. Comic books and comic strips have explored dreams somewhat more often, starting with Winsor McCay's popular newspaper strips; the trend toward confessional works in alternative comics of the 1980s saw a proliferation of artists drawing their own dreams.

Dream material continues to be used by a wide range of contemporary artists for various purposes. This practice is considered by some to be of psychological value for the artist—independent of the artistic value of the results—as part of the discipline of "dream work".

Notable works directly based on dreams

Visual art


Individual works



Oneiric (film theory), Surrealist cinema



Works intended to resemble dreams, but not directly based on them





See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dream art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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