Sleep Versus Dream: Critical Analysis of Paintings

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The theme I have chosen is the Dream/Sleep theme. These two arts share comparable themes. The first painting, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (nicknamed Dream) is by Salvador Dali. This painting was finished in 1944 and is of a sleeping figure of Gala. Gala appears to be in a dream like state while at a point of arousal as indicated by her hardened nipples. Her legs are in a position suggesting stretching as if she is about to awake. The animals appear to be retreating into the pomegranate indicating the dream is ending.

The other Painting is by Henry Fuseli, titled The Nightmare, finished in 1782 that shows an imp on top of a woman while in a sleeping state. The woman appears to be exhausted as she lies limply across the bed. The imp appears to dominate her peace.

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These two works of art focus on the unconsciousness of the women and dominate forces that enter their lives. The works connote an uncertainty that causes even more interest by the observer. As I look at the two works of art, I see two sleeping beauties, having subconscious dreams in art form. The question I asked myself is “When we dream, where do we go?”.

It is important to focus on the contrasting elements of the artworks. The Nightmare focuses more on the sexual terror which can also be ‘the dark corners of the mind’. The Nightmare was created during the Surrealism era. The Surrealists believe that to focus on the unconscious mind is to reveal the power of the imagination. Their importance on the power of personal imagination puts them in the tradition of Romanticism, but unlike their predecessors, they believed that revelations could be found on the street and in everyday life. Creating a “paint freely” culture.

Dreams painting was during the Enlightenment period called The Romanticism era. Romanticism celebrated the individual imagination and intuition in the enduring search for individual rights and liberty. In Dreams, Gala as shown by her naked body floating just inches above the earth demonstrates her sexual freedom and imagination. Additionally, many paintings of this time were focused on the French Revolution and embraced the struggles for freedom and equality and the promotion of justice.

The Nightmare was created at the height of the Enlightenment and is also called “Age of Reason”. Art of this time typically displayed bright colors resulting in dreamlike, sometimes bizarre imagery but Fuseli chose to depict darker, irrational forces which Shocked and frightened his viewers. “Romanticism was closely bound up with the emergence of newly found nationalism that swept many countries after the American Revolution. Emphasizing local folklore, traditions, and landscapes, Romanticists provided the visual imagery that further spurred national identity and pride” (

Dali’s painting is exactly the opposite. Dali’s is focused on lively, bright painting opposite of many of the arts in their time while Fuseli focuses on gothic horror. While Both paintings spark curiosity, and ahead of their time.

I have chosen an artwork to compare in my sleep/dreams theme. This art is a oil canvas painted Micheal Parkes. Michael Parkes is an American-born magic realism artist specializing in fantasy painting, stone lithography and sculpture. He explains in his own words below in his Facebook post of this painting:

“…The tigress, with her animal instincts, expresses the fear of falling (or failing). The clown-like teacher dreams of how the years of training can become the truth that only performance can deliver. But Rosa alone experiences the animal fear of the tiger cub and the controlled will of a human mind to become the dancer…to dance the tightrope” (

The shared themes tie into my previous selected artwork because you can see a lot of the older periods such as Romanticism working in the Contemporary era and using the same means such as oil painting. As you study arts and humanities, it unfolds a combination of past and present, emotion and dialogue. What sets apart Micheal Parkes’ painting, is that art that is centered in the sleep/dreams theme in the contemporary era, are much less mystical and more straightforward. With time going by, humans have evolved and have more understanding of dreams, different types of art like graphic design and different techniques like 3d Print Figurines. The theme is still relevant today because people still have dreams. The more knowledge we have of how our dreams work, the more techniques available to us, the more we can create artwork that will shock, amaze as well as educate us.

The value of challenging perceived notions of historical, cultural, and social identity is to learn from these identities. Every artwork has meaning and messages behind them. These works of art not only tell us the meanings and messages behind them but the era, the style, and the people behind it. Humanities helps us to understands these meanings and to make these connections by breaking down the paintings by style, balance, contrast, emphasis, movement, pattern, rhythm, and unity. Our understanding of social and cultural practices of the past are so important because it promotes understanding each culture and people. Lots of problems can arise from misunderstandings, especially because we live in a multicultural world. By learning and understanding different cultures you understand eventually learn to appreciate why people do things the way they do. When you identify commonalities with other people, you are better able to sympathize with their situation and let go of negative assumptions.

Our understanding of social and cultural practices of the past can impact how we conduct ourselves socially and professionally. It can influence us in a negative or positive way. For example, as an African America woman I can conduct myself with the “angry black woman syndrome” because most of the time that is how we are marketed by the media. Thus, it becomes and expectation. Instead, I choose to carry myself with class and pride. Although it feels like an uphill battle to fight the misperceptions, I rise each day to set a good example, so that the sacrifices my people have endured are not in vain. Humanities taught me many ways that black women were portrayed, the reasons why it happened, and how we rise out of that image as we move forward in freedom and workforce.

The Artist responsibility to society in terms of shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world in which we live is to convey the truth of the times, to highlight the issues of world, and to teach us of the past. For example, paintings about slavery and racism teaches us of the hardship and the cruelty faced by African Americans. Those kind of images gives us an idea of what went on during that time and the emotions that they felt. Depicting people beyond the stereotypical perceptions allows generations of people to view themselves in positive ways. Artists bring us face-to-face with the values and beliefs that shape our current culture but more importantly, they carry the responsibility depicting a beautiful vision of a better future.


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