Secular Romance -or- The Canadian's Painter's Studio

Planetary Romance of Earth -or- Artistic Portraits of Arabian Nights

Cave painting by primitive humans provides some of the oldest artifact evidence of human tool use, the creative impulse and story telling. Many of the stories of "Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" speak about the artistic canvas of human creativity, beauty and the sublime. As a clinical psychologist, my interest since I was a student was in the forensic profiling of people, thus also my interest in "film noir". This artistic and forensic perspective can be found in a variety of Field Notes, especially "Understanding Laura". 

In 1978 as a student I had begun using dream vision to develop the art of creating clinical "portraits (1) of people and political world leaders, such as Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev. At the time, this was not a new clinical idea, for example Adolf Hitler's personality was profiled by the OSS. By 1984, and during my depth psychological training therapy (1984-87), the film noir paradigm (2) became part and parcel of my clinical and geo-political understanding of the body political (3) psychodynamics of the collective dream vision landscape, which at that time was still globally dominated by the "Cold War" story. Read Field Note, "Remembering the Cold War".

There are many important global geo-political cities such as London, Paris, Zurich, Rome, Berlin, Prague, Moscow, New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Jerusalem, New Delhi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Peking and Ottawa to name a few. Many of these cities already have found their way into "Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" like "City on the Edge of Forever". On this domestic front, the aesthetic noir idea of dream vision "city mysteries" is illustrated in the Field Note "Mysteries of Dallas". Exploring how this dark romantic side of the "naked city" operates in the global theatre of dream vision is paramount for any clinical depth psychological attempt at salvaging the planetary romance story of the Earth.

"Field Notes" uses dreams to create a profile of the prosopographic network (4) of life history, and a "people's history". This "who's who" folk historical network is driven by an overdetermined number of psychodynamic influences. Read Field Note, "Researching the Sociology of Dreams". One of the primary story telling driving forces of dream vision is romantic love. Field Notes much like the bibliophilic frame story of "Arabian Nights" is dedicated to making the psychodynamic varieties of romantic works of art transparent and visible to all readers.

Here then is a dream of a student that illustrates what Northrop Frye called "The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance".  

Kim, 21 Canadian Female Art Student

Mark, this is my dream... 

My dream begins with me holding a painting and looking at it. The painting has two equal towers, one tower is on the left and the other tower is on the right. Something was in between them, but I couldn't make it out. The man I love suddenly comes down the stairs, because I'm in a room in the basement that is apparently his studio. I give him the painting because he painted it. He thanks me and says to me, "Isn't it beautiful?" Suddenly, when I look at the painting that is now in his hands, the painting has changed into a picture of dark green flowers in shadows of darkness.

Mark's Reply:

Prelude to Painting and Dream Vision -or- Romantic Structural Core of All Fiction

Your dream appears to speak about the ideas of the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye in structural terms of art, history, literature and romance. For Frye, as I understand him, he finds in romance the archetypal structural linguistic source code of all literary genres such as the historical novel, the family romance novel, the love story, the soap opera, the melodrama, the adventure story. For Frye, romance provides the "structural core of all fiction." Frye's critical vision integrates literary philosophy and history, which are envisioned as having a romantic utopian dream trajectory. Frye does not deny or discount the literary existence of the dystopian romantic nightmare (5), it becomes poetic part and parcel of the "total dream" of literature, and Blake's "Great Code of Art" (6).

To quote Frye; "A modulation of the endless romance is the linking together of a series of stories by a frame, providing a unified setting. The root of this is in human life is, possibly, the child's bedtime story: the Arabian Nights setting also preserves the sense of a threshold to a dream world." It is exactly this romantic frame story of light and darkness of dream vision which metafictionally links a "series of stories by a frame, providing a unified setting", that is what "Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" is all about. Field Notes will reunify for you the reader "The Forgotten Language of Dream Vision" and the great master code of art, history, culture and nature.

Nigel Spivey "How Art Made the World" believes that only humans create symbolic imagery. Spivey turns to the ideas of David Lewis-Williams about the symbolic birth of the human imagination, which for him was accomplished by shamanistic "altered states of consciousness". Many Field Notes attest to the oneiric artistic and creative power of altered states of consciousness, read "The Transpersonal Unconscious". Field Notes asks you the reader; "what is art?" and "what is artistic realism in dreams?"

In this poetic and aesthetic sense, your dream reminds me of the French artist Gustav Courbet and his painting "The Painter's Studio". The painting you are holding and looking at in your dream has two equal towers left and right, a symmetry of left and right also plays an artistic representational role in the Courbet's allegorical pictorial room design of the social influences on his life as a painter. Courbet's studio painting, can be seen much like a dream, as a self-portrait in the "mind's eye", a representational canvas in a canvas, a book in a book, a film in a film, a dream in a dream. Read Field Note, "Stranger than Fiction".

In your dream, the man you love descends "down the stairs" and enters the studio room you are in. In chapter 4 (of Frye's "The Secular Scripture") which is titled "The Bottomless Dream: Themes of Descent", Frye reminds his readers that the literary phenomena often ignored in romance is: "the dreaming experience, with its erotic resonance." For Frye, the "normal road of descent is through dream". As Freud had already stated, the dream is the "royal road to the unconscious". The artistic descent into the dream world has always provided humanity with a way to discover and explore the unfathomable "depths" of our being. By philosophical and artistic definition, that's what "depth psychology(7) is all about.

As Frye suggests, most likely our anthropological art history frame story begun by our Paleolithic ancestors (8), handed down by way of kinship and descent to modern humans, was primarily induced and accomplished by "once upon a time" bedtime stories to children. The art of "show and tell" becomes the oral cultural vehicle of the art cycle of descent. In this "folklore" and children's literature sense, it can be no coincidence that Socrates prior to his execution is instructed by a dream to devote his last living moments to re-working Aesop's fables. Read Field Note, "Aesop's Fables Rock". 

Much like in your dream, my own consciously organized descent into the dream world began as a student in my early twenties, and was induced by my mimetic (show) and diegetic (tell) need and artistic desire (9, 10) to understand the sub-conscious vicissitudes of the dream of romance. By descending into the night world, into the world of our dreams, we can begin to trace the oldest steps of humanity, its creative unconscious (11) dreams and conscious myth making. The "gesamtkunstwerk" of the symbolic art movements from the paleolithic to modern museum of art can be traced using dream vision. This genealogical frame story of desire and dream vision is writ large in the artistic and literary fragments of our frame story cycles of collective memory. The Field Note, "Dream Vision, A New Art Form?" provides further artistic understanding.

In your dream, you are looking at the painting, the picture changes, transforms, which suggests what John Berger said in "Ways of Seeing"; "Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak." Before learning to use words and speak, the child's desires and dreams are cognitively driven by the visualization of the world. The Belgian painter Magritte makes the surreal poetic gap of visual figurative art and words, (gaps between language, thought, art, dream and reality) visible in his painting "The Key of Dreams". Read Field Note, "In the Blink of an Eye: Part 2". 

If Jacques Lacan proposed that the symbolic order of unconscious desire is structured like a language, then this forgotten artistic language of desire and dreams is primarily driven by the visual imagination. For Lacan the visual imagination is embodied by a person's "gaze", dominated by the epistemic question of what is "real". Seen in this light, the social order of visual thought and visual culture is configured and organized by the cultural logic of the symbolic (S), imaginary (I) and the real (R). In fact, you state that you are "looking" at the painting, suggesting your own artistic "scopophilic" (which by definition means love of looking) S-I-R methods (12) and ways of seeing, looking at the reality of visual culture.

It is often said, that; "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Your love interest asks you, what can only be seen as a narcissistic inquiry about his picture, "isn't it beautiful?" From a romantic perspective, seeing, narcissism, voyeurism/exhibitionism, beauty and attraction often are seen going hand in hand. By nature, humans are visually narcissistic, searching for narcissistic supplies and scopophilic gratification in visual culture. The only question; is their narcissism healthy, or pathological (with all its scopophobic shades of grey)? The dark side of desire and collective narcissism was discussed by Christopher Lasch in "The Culture of Narcissism" (13). Read Field Note, "Felisific Calculus of Narcissism".

In your dream the picture changes (14) from an architectural tower scene to one of "dark green flowers in shadows of darkness." This "fantastic art" transformation, suggests that "magical" and "hallucinatory" realism is at work. The long tradition of the language of flowers, plays a significant symbolic role in our dreams. The blue flower was the flower of choice for the Romantics (15). The romantic theme of plant symbolism is discussed in the Field Note "Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia". 

Green flowers could symbolize nature, life, growth and youth. Of course, narcissism is symbolized by the narcissus plant, which also apparently appears in a green version. The red rose is the flower of choice on Valentine's Day. While I personally never have seen one, the green rose which reportedly exists, is not abundant in nature, and is much like your dream, it appears to represent hope (16), optimism, transformation, change, and renewal of life and energy. On a final note your dream seems to provide a poetic and artistic foundation for your life, much like Wordsworth's life long autobiographical work "The Prelude", which outlines the growth of a poet's mind (17). Read Field Notes, "Dream Vision Poetry for Beginners", and "Dead Poets Society".

Footnotes: In the Artistic Footsteps of a Romantic Dream 

  1. Cynthia Freeland, "Portraits and Persons: A Philosophical Inquiry".
  2. Edward Dimendberg, "Film Noir and the Spaces of Modernity".
  3. Fredric Jameson, "The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act".
  4. Frank W. Weis, "Lifelines of History".
  5. Mario Praz, "The Romantic Agony".
  6. Northrop Frye, "The Great Code".
  7. Burkhard Meyer-Sickendieck, "Tiefe" (Depths).
  8. Carl Gustav Jung, "Man and his Symbols".
  9. Erich Auerbach, "Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature"
  10. René Girard, "Deceit, Desire & the Novel".
  11. Erich Neumann, "Art and the Creative Unconscious".
  12. Jonathan Crary, "Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the 19th Century".
  13. Louise Vinge, "The Narcissus Theme in Western European Literature".
  14. Ernst G. Schachtel, "Metamorphosis: On the Development of Affect, Perception, Attention, and Memory".
  15. Nicholas Roe, "Romanticism: An Oxford Guide".
  16. Ernst Bloch, "The Principle of Hope".
  17. Douglas B. Wilson, "The Romantic Dream: Wordsworth and the Poetics of the Unconscious".
All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.