I had an odd dream last night. Not much odder than most dreams are, and it’s not interesting enough for me to bore you by describing it. However, the dream reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but never quite seen realized. How do you artistically express a dream?
Dreams are weird. They feel real while you’re in them, but that’s only because you’re unconscious. You don’t know you’re in a dream, and if you realize you are then you typically wake up. When you do wake all the preposterous events that occurred during the dream come to life. Your living room has not somehow merged with your grandmothers house (only with pink paint, and it turns into some kind of bank at some point), you would never actually go to school in your underwear without realizing it somewhere between your front door and the sidewalk, and (hopefully) no one in real life would ever try to steal your teeth. What’s strange is that such obvious facts were not at all apparent during the dream itself. Dreaming is such a unique and strange experience. It’s unlike anything we encounter during our waking hours. Which, unfortunately, makes it incredibly difficult to describe. We’ve all tried to tell someone about a dream we once had, and usually it turns into a ramble of half forgotten imagery with a nonsensical and boring plot. Describing a dream is typically dull; however, dreams themselves are charged with emotion and spectacle. The problem is that there is no way to convey that emotion except with words. In a dream even a pink plastic flamingo can be charged with terrifying aspect; but try explaining that to your roommate who you woke up at 3:00 AM with your screaming.
Tolstoy (I think, you might want to double check that) described art as a means of communicating emotion. An artist feels something, and creates a work of art to express that feeling, whether that’s through sculpture or music or paintings or even comic books. If the artist is successful then when someone experiences that art they too will feel a bit of what the artist felt. Dreams, being such emotionally powerful experiences, prove especially difficult to express artistically. It’s one thing to try and capture joy itself in a painting, and it’s another to capture joy in the form of a small dog who turns into a pair of living slippers halfway through the experience.
In short, dreams are weird.
Since I love the medium of film and video I’ve been especially interested in how to capture the experience of dreaming in that format. I’ve seen many movies and TV shows with “dream sequences” but they never match up to the real thing. One problem is that they seem too real. A camera picks up all the detail available in a scene, but in dreams the only details that exist are the ones we’re currently experiencing. Dreams typically don’t have fully realized backgrounds and detailed sets. They’re fuzzy, liquid, shifting from one thing to another rapidly. So when a movie shows someone’s dream and I can see blades of grass in the lawn, cracks in the sidewalk, bark on the trees, etc., it becomes that much less dreamlike. I can think of one dream sequence where the person in question suddenly found themselves in a black void, with furniture and people appearing out of it depending on what was happening at the time. That comes closer, but is still off. How many dreams are in a black void, after all? I complain but I have no real solution. A scene must be filmed somewhere, after all.
Perhaps someday we’ll be able to record our dreams. I’ve heard people describe some far off “dream television” where we can watch people’s dreams as they happen. But as someone who makes videos for a hobby I have to say that a TV just won’t work. If we ever do develop the ability to enjoy other’s dreams it will have to be a full body (and full brain) experience, just like the real thing itself. Any other medium does not seem capable of matching up. A dream doesn’t inspire emotions like a piece of art does; it is emotion, combined with sound and image and touch and smell. And yet, dreams don’t really involve hearing, seeing, feeling, or smelling anything. It’s a purely mental experience, and one we can’t easily replicate physically.