[Regular blog posts now appear only on the first and third Tuesdays of each month–but I’ll be adding “extras” from time to time, including reviews like this one…]
When I was asked by Susan Levin’s publicist to review Art From Dreams, my first thought was to take a look at the sample images and the text description posted with the promotional materials, to be sure that this was work I could appreciate.
I am not a visual artist or art critic, and so my review is based on my personal taste and intuitive grasp of the artwork, and my experience with dreams and creative dreamwork. According to my personal taste, the mixed media collage/assemblages are appealing and intriguing. And because of my background in dreamwork and creativity, I am always interested in the relationship between dream imagery and artistic expression. The book, when I received it, was not a disappointment. Art From Dreams is beautifully made and invites lingering—with little text other than a brief introduction and foreword, followed by page after page of art pieces, some accompanied by corresponding poems.
Much of the artwork is reminiscent of Joseph Cornell: many pieces use found objects and/or collage; some pieces are framed within compartmented boxes of rough wood, some are free-standing or wall-mounted assemblages. Most of the materials appear aged, weathered, rusted, or worn. Darker colors predominate, with subtle shades of brown or gray providing the tone so the occasional lighter or brighter colors stand out sharply.
Dream ideas can be powerfully expressed through such forms, and the echo of these ideas in poetry can be hauntingly lovely. The poems are like lyrics to accompany dream music: sometimes telling a story, sometimes evoking only impressions. For the most part, Levin steers clear of sentimentality and sensationalism in both words and visual images. Although I liked some pieces better than others, I found the whole process of paging through this book to be dream-like in the best sense: aesthetically satisfying, and imaginatively engaging.
I would recommend Art From Dreams especially as inspiration to those who are learning to express their own dreamwork artistically. If you’re a Jungian, you might also be interested in the way the pieces in the first half of the book reflect the process of working with a Jungian analyst.
In general, creating art from dreams can be problematic. Dream images feel meaningful because they are recognizable to the psyche on many levels, and dreams arrange these images in original and surprising ways. An art form that merely uses the images, without the context of the whole dream, risks being trite precisely because those images are so recognizably evocative that they have become clichés. A bird cage, a key, a spiral, a butterfly, a padlock… Strong images, but easily heavy-handed in their messages. However, art, like dreams, can transcend this triteness by placing the images in relation to one another and allowing them to tell their own story. Levin is an artist who is clearly capable of bringing images to life through her work.
The collage/assemblage or poem can’t recount the events of the dream verbatim (without being both monotonous and obscure), but must become a new kind of dream experience in itself. Most of the pieces in Art From Dreams make this creative leap into another world, and inspire us to follow. I’m sorry that I can’t describe specific pieces in detail here, but in works like Mind Detritus—where earrings, drawer pulls, gears and keys accumulate at the bottom of a collage ocean in a perfect circle with a crescent moon rim—Susan Levin evokes a dream, and simultaneously carries on the dreaming.