I rarely dream. Let me rephrase that. I rarely recall my dreams, unless I’m awoken in the middle of one. I’ve heard that if my desire to recall my dreams were to increase, in time I would have a greater ability to do so. Don’t know; haven’t had the desire.
I also can’t recall a dream starting with an “establishing shot”, as is typical of most movies. You know, where the camera first sets the scene, indicating where, and possibly when, the story takes place?
For example, in the long establishing shot at the start of the movie Return To Me, we’re first in the clouds, high over a city. So we know, say, that it’s unlikely we’re about to watch a period movie about Scotland and the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. As the movie’s opening credits appear and disappear, we get lowered closer and closer to buildings near the heart of the city, eventually zeroing in on one particular building under construction. Finally, the shot ends centered on a man wearing a hard hat, standing on top of the building. He looks to be in his mid-thirties. We get the sense, from his clothing and other contextual clues, that that he’s perhaps the project’s foreman, or something along those lines. He’s not, from the looks of it, an alien. Not the president of the United States. He doesn’t seem out of place – not wearing, say, a tuxedo, although not too much further into the film he is. We realize that we’re probably looking at the film’s protagonist, not some random person. There’s some reason he’s being presented to us. He’s important.
We figure this out with no helpful overlay of a Captain Kirk-like narration, “Chicago: present day. This is the story of Bob Rueland, an architect, his wife Elizabeth, a zoologist, and Grace Brigs, an artist who is suffering from heart disease. Its mission: to explore the heartfelt connection between these three people…” What the film’s about is allowed to unfold. We’re given all the information we need, just when we need it.
Back to the scene with the tux. Had the film opened with that, we’d be confused. We’d wonder where we were – a hospital, by the looks of it, sure, and probably present day, but where in the world? Who’s the guy with the look of concern on his face, wearing a tuxedo stained with blood?
I’ve never stepped outside of myself in a dream, either, but if I could have seen my face in the mirror of this one particular dream, I’m sure it would have been a similar concerned look staring back at me.
In the dream, I was in the hallway of a massive building in New York City that was full of artists’ studios. Don’t ask me how I knew that it was New York, or that the building contained other studios. I just did. Dreams can be like that.
I was also aware that one of my recent, hand-centric sculptures was in one of the perhaps hundreds of studios, somewhere else within the cavernous space, but at the moment I found myself, as one does in dreams, immediately immersed in the situation – no establishing shot.
I was with the artist Chuck Close, as well as the curator, critic, writer, and painter Rob Storr, and I asked them if they’d take a look at my work.
Then, viola, in a flash, we were in my studio. Only, to my horror, the sculpture, a large wooden hand and arm, was lying on the studio floor, obviously unfinished.
Now, typically my sculptures aren’t solid through and through; they have an armature within that I call, hearkening back to when I made wood strip canoes, a strong back – the form one builds the canoe hull over, then removes once the canoe’s exterior hull has been completed, sanded, and fiberglassed, so that the same can be done to the boat’s interior. Only, I leave the strong back or armature within the sculptures.
Anyhow, in the dream, the upper arm section was opened up, exposed, and something like taut piano strings (which I certainly don’t put in my work) criss-crossed the large and clearly unfinished section.
It was Rob Storr who I focused on, now. He walked into the room and past the piece. The work clearly didn’t captivate his attention, and my heart sank.
But this was just the beginning of my woes, for who should immediately and unreasonably appear from who knows where but perhaps a dozen diaper wearing toddlers, walking around and within the open section of the piece. What the??
I had to get them all out of there – this was beyond embarrassing!
That’s about all I recall from the dream. Was Chuck Close in the room as well? Don’t know. Did the toddlers have any effect on Rob Storr? No clue. The dream ended as abruptly as it had begun. Chew on that one, Andy.
I could end this post now in order to leave you with a similar state of confusion: Umm… what exactly was that all about? Why was he so embarrassed to show his work in an unfinished state? Why’d he write that blog post??
Why indeed? I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately, because I’m certainly not doing it for the money.
Anyhow, after I told my dream to my wife, she said she thought it represented my ‘two worlds’ colliding, with the little tots representing her and the kids. I disagree, though.
I think dream is kind of like an artist’s version of the more typical one where you show up for class only to discover that you’re wearing pajamas. (I can’t recall ever having had a pajamas-to-school-type dream before. Back in school, I never applied myself much – my flag of scholarship perpetually flew at half-staff, save in a few classes like english, biology, and art. I figure that my brain must not have ever felt such a dream was warranted. “Hey, if he doesn’t care when he’s awake, why would he care when he’s sleeping? Insert the tape of the dream where he’s flying around again.”)
Storr and Close, being the two most voracious viewers of art I can imagine, are, to me, standard bearers, and having seen nearly everything artistically that there is to see, evidently, in my dream, they represent a test of sorts. Perhaps also, Close having been my employer years ago, he represents the acme of the art world for me in some respects.
And my for whatever reason embarrassingly unfinished sculpture, invaded by these embarrassingly distracting cherubs, these Things 1, 2, 3 through 12, are perhaps a deep-seated fear of being embarrassed at showing my work out in the world.
What of the tangle of crisscrossing piano wires? Still not sure.
But overall, I’m pretty sure the dream was saying I ought to lighten up: there’ll always be things that are out of one’s control; get used to it, Andy.
It’s a lesson that, as in my school days, I tend to avoid learning. Time and time again, I find myself wanting to present myself to others as “the complete package”. Someone who has crossed every t and dotted every i. Who has thought through the viewer’s camera angle, as it were, and made sure that there’s continuity in the shot. (Relevant to several media, continuity is the consistency of the characteristics of the people, plot, objects, and places seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time.)
I had the dream in 2013, but it remains relevant to me. Particularly so at present, in fact.
Since February of 2012 and through to today, in my artistic work, both two and three dimensional, I’ve slavishly maintained a continuity of motif – that of the human hand. I’ve had my reasons for doing so, and, as I’ve written plenty about the subject elsewhere, won’t take the time to do so today.
Back in 2014, during an introductory talk he gave in conjunction with the exhibition of my work he curated as the then director of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Blake Milteer said that he felt that one day I would probably move on from the hand motif. He hadn’t asked me about that ahead of time. If he had, I probably would have said that I doubted it. The motif seemed sufficiently deep that I could mine it for the rest of my life and continue to uncover new jewels of meaning and possibilities.
Anyhow, sure enough, it looks like Blake was right:
In the spring of this year, at the outset of the process of applying for a public art commission, I struggled to connect the hand motif to the project’s context as written in the request for proposals, or RFP.
It was as if I was too close to the motif. Like I’d walked into a movie a half an hour after it began, wondering just what I was looking at.
What I needed to do, and eventually did, was to pan way back out, so that, like an establishing shot, I could make sense of where I was – what the “movie” was supposed to be about. (While I haven’t yet disclosed much about the project, and plan to in the near future, I will say that that like Return To Me focuses on Chicago, the piece I and others will be creating focuses on the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Once I’d backed up and could see the project, both thematically and contextually, from an appropriate distance, sans any personal overlay, I realized that the self-imposed “limitation” of the hand motif which has, counter-intuitively, provided me with artistic freedom rather than restriction, and the ability to focus more on the work’s meaning as well as the more formal, even (and especially) the abstract aspects of the work, just couldn’t be made to successfully address this particular public art project’s needs. Perhaps at some point I’ll create a hand-themed piece of public art, but for this project, once I chucked all pre-conceived notions into the waste paper basket, I realized that there was no reason that, as an artist, I couldn’t turn on a dime and explore something different than what I’m known for.
It’s called artistic license, a notion I fully endorse.
From the Free Dictionary:
Except… for the dream. Except for the part of me that wonders if, due to how dissimilar the work will be compared to my motif mainstay, it will leave people dazed and confused.
Obviously, I’ll just have to deal with it, as my project has been chosen. Perhaps this blog post is much ado about nothing. Perhaps I’m still too myopically close to the subject; too self-conscious. Too concerned about presentation. About continuity. About artistic consistency. Perhaps.
I’ll wrap things up this morning (it’s 3:37 am and I’ll probably head back to bed for a bit more shut-eye) with this thought, directed at both you and me:
Is it possible you’re limiting yourself in some way in life because you’re too close to you? Too invested in maintaining the you you’ve always presented to the world? Is there something that you’ve desired to be or to do (let’s just say in the creative context) that you’ve kept a tight lid on because it doesn’t fit whatever preconceived mold you made for yourself at some time in the past? Is it time to bring that package in off the porch, open it up, and begin to explore its contents for the first time in a long, long time – perhaps for the first time ever? Does something need to break open (like I broke open the copper water supply line two nights ago, while excavating in preparation for building my new art studio)? (I wasn’t sure I ought to use that illustration, as all that did was make a big mess, but sometimes, when you break things open, that’s one result.) Or like the coffee mug broke, the day I “returned to me”, realizing I was made, in part, to create art, and that it was time?
Caveat: it can be dangerous to think thusly. Perhaps you’re in a season that, for whatever reason, but usually related to finances and/or having twelve diaper-wearing toddlers underfoot, you simply can’t scratch that itch at this time. If so, all I can offer is a heartfelt “been there, done that.” I am the poster boy for the person who walked away from a dream I had in my late teens/early 20’s, only to begin dreaming again well into my fourth decade.
Same, to a different degree, with my wife. We’ve both found ourselves rather suddenly thrust into the midst of engaging, fulfilling work in disparate arenas after having spent years somewhat sidelined. Necessarily so. Willingly so.
However, some of the sidelining, I’ll have to admit, was self imposed, on my part. I did a lot to lay the groundwork for an eventual return to art during those years but could have done more.
Not sure why I didn’t. Perhaps the notion of being a full time artist was so, I don’t know, elevated, so holy in a way, that I simply couldn’t do much more than take a glance in its direction every now and again. It was like looking at the sun. Just too bright. Unwise. Best to content myself with life “under the sun”, to quote a wise, yet ultimately foolish man from antiquity.
So perhaps Nan is right about my dream. Maybe it does have something to do with how at times, I can tend to wait until all my ducks are in a row before I make a move, more out of self-conscious embarrassment than anything involving, say, monetary risk.
Maybe the first step is to do what artists do. We imagine. We dream. Sometimes the dreams are ill-defined, like the ones that kind of disappear just at the moment of consciousness. Other times they are vivid, and we’re able to return to them again and again like my wife and I do with our copy of Return To Me.
Maybe you just have to allow yourself to dream an embarrassing dream – to leave the “how” in God’s capable hands, leave your concerns about whether or not it fits into your pre-conceived, possibly unfinished, possibly ill-conceived plan for who you want others to see you as
and. just. dream.