Honouring the Dream
We all dream every night, but seldom understand the experience. One powerful use of art therapy is to work with dreams. Approaching dreams through imagery can open a different understanding of them by building a new relationship to them. Using art work to respond to a dream changes how the dreamer perceives it.
Most people have experienced nightmares, or have gone through their day feeling haunted by a disturbing dream. Often, making art from these dreams, making them concrete, can be a relief. Focusing on the dream through making a painting or sculpture connected to it helps to contain some of this unpleasant feeling. Literally "getting the imagery out in front to have a look at it" makes the dream more approachable. Having a feeling of choice over how to express the dream seems to help people move from fear toward curiosity. For example, crayon may allow a sense of control, where paint might feel more expressive. A sharp pencil may encourage a different kind of focus on detail than does a clay sculpture.
Thinking about the images and choosing materials to convey the feeling of the dream shifts the dreamer into working with the dream rather than on it. There is a temptation when talking about dreams to try to reduce them to a message, to figure out what they mean. While the dream may hold a message, honouring the dream by responding through artwork tends to establish a shift of focus that preserves the dream's autonomy. Instead of solving the dream like a puzzle, the dreamer can begin to create a new relationship with the dream. This participation, this ongoing listening, establishes a visible, concrete, yet poetic connection to the dream.
Continuing the Dream
Within the art-making the dream evolves. Often the painting is not just a response to the dream, but a continuation of it. Some elements are emphasized, while others are added, left out, or diminished. This experience, the recognition of the possibility of interacting with the dream, is important. Participation can be empowering; the dream didn't just happen to the dreamer, he or she can respond actively and creatively. As the dream is befriended, forgotten parts of it are sometimes remembered. Connections emerge as alien images shift into surprising familiarity. The dream becomes not a judgment or a portent, but useful wisdom.