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Art Through Time: A Global View

Dreams and Visions Compare: How Do We Represent Dreams in Art?

Dream, Caused by the Flight of a Bee (Around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking Up)

Dream, Caused by the Flight of a Bee (Around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking Up)
Artist / Origin: Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904–1989)
Region: Europe
Date: 1944
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Oil on wood
Medium: Painting
Dimensions: H: 20 1/8 in. (51 cm.), W: 16 1/8 in. (41 cm.)
Location: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain
Credit: © 2009 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy of Art Resource, NY/Photo by Erich Lessing

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)

Utatane soshi emaki (A Wakeful Sleep)
Artist / Origin: Tosa Mitsunobu (Japanese, 1434–1525)
Region: East Asia
Date: Late 15th–early 16th century
Period: 1400 CE – 1800 CE
Material: Ink, color, and gold on paper
Medium: Painting
Location: National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Credit: National Museum of Japanese History, Chiba Prefecture, Japan

How do we represent dreams in art?

Both of these works feature a woman asleep and presumably dreaming. The nature of the dreams and the presentation of the women are exceedingly different, however. Dalí’s image is a vivid, chaotic scene that is as much the fantasy of the artist as the sleeper. Mitsunobu’s image, in contrast, is marked by serenity and ethereality. We are at once given access to the woman’s dream world and removed from it. How a given artist renders the world of dreaming is clearly not all about fantasy. Images of dreams might also, as these works demonstrate, speak to the intellectual, sexual, social, and artistic values of artist and audience.

Questions to Consider

  • Dalí and Mitsunobu were far removed in time and worked in very different cultural contexts. Yet they both start with the same basic subject matter—the dreaming woman. Why do you think this subject matter appealed to each artist? Keeping in mind the role of art in various cultures and at different points in time, do you think there is anything universally appealing to the artist about the motif of dreaming? Why or why not?
  • Although both artists deal with the motif of a woman dreaming, their rendering of both the woman and her dream are extremely different. How does each approach his subject matter? What do you think he is attempting to convey through his work and to whom?
  • Stylistically these works present a striking contrast. Describe each artist’s approach. What is the effect of their different stylistic choices? What is the relationship between style, content, and composition in each work, and why do you think the artist in each case structured that relationship as he did?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


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