Senior Thesis

Bailey Dowlin

Visual Analysis of Dreams

Bachelor of Fine Arts Written Thesis

University of Cincinnati


Dreams are a shared experience of the human race,
impacting us in a variety of ways. Through experimentation with
materials and the research and analysis of dreams, my abstract
collages are a metaphysical culmination of visual elements that
derive from emotions and personal experiences through
dreaming. I reveal my interpretation of universal dreams and what
they mean when making collage and inviting the viewer to
encounter what my brain is thinking, feeling, and experiencing
during my slumber. Mixed media collage incorporates my
experience into the paradigm of common dream types; nightmare,
epic, recurring, and anxiety dreams. I used a variety of materials
with different techniques and layers to contextualize the shared
experience of dreams into relatable imagery.

 Rather than representing my state of mind during specific
dreams, my thesis work summarized nightmares, epic, recurring,
and anxiety dreams, which are relevant and memorable
containing a range of emotion. Using dream psychology and
symbols along with visual art vocabulary, I created four collages
depicting a shared experience of dreaming with my own
perspective of imagery and emotions. Epic dreams are often my
most surreal and strange, leaving me with bizarre memories and
vivid, surreal imagery that is visually translated using bright
colors, smooth textures, and strange shapes. These dreams are
most significant in leaving a memorable impact because of the
strangeness instead of emotion. Dreams that are suspenseful and
full of anxiety are where dream psychology and symbolic meaning
are most significant, possessing many symbols to interpret about
problem solving. A busy composition with abstract shapes, teeth,
and chaotic marks conveyed the idea of stress and suspense.
Recurring dreams are defined as dreams that repeated themselves with very little variation in story or theme. These are
particularly interesting and hold nostalgic value to me because I
have had the same recurring dream since I was a child. A
composition full of repetition in pattern and shape showed the
idea of repetition with a simple black and white color scheme. My
darker, more disturbing nightmares have strong, powerful
emotions making me feel discomfort and fright. These types of
unpleasant dreams I’m most happy to wake up from. Self
discovery occurs because my subconscious forces me to interact
with what I fear the most. Jagged edges in line and shape as well
as dark colors represented darkness and fear. These types of
dreams are not only common and engaging, but very
unforgettable and revealing of the subconscious. 1
1 “Dream Moods: Type of Dreams.” Dream Moods: Type of Dreams. 28 Mar.
2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.

 My work was inspired by dream psychology, various
movements and artists in art history, and elements of design as
visual vocabulary. Research of artists, surrealism, and dream
psychology played various roles in inspiring the concept and
visual elements in my work, and added to my preexisting interest
in dream psychology. My research of these topics explored
meaning behind specific occurrences in my dreams that I applied
and visually contextualized through collage.
Sigmund Freud’s dream psychology theories impacted the
way I viewed the subconscious and how dreams can be used to
decode what our brain is trying to communicate. Sigmund Freud
discusses his theories of dream psychology in his famous book
“The Interpretation of Dreams,” where wish fulfillment and
attempts for the unconscious to resolve conflict are common
2 I used this information in my work through layers of
2 Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Third Edition. Trans. by A. A.
Brill. New York: The Macmillan Compa

materials, visually representing subconscious thought and
irresolute meanings behind symbols and imagery. Dream
psychology inspired me to make many layers to visually represent
the underlying meaning each dream holds.
Dream symbolism, which was most prevalent when I was making
work about specific dreams, helped me decipher imagery, leading
to reflection and self discovery. 2 This also provided inspiration for
visual dialogue made in my collages, such as organic paint blobs
and teeth. Nightmares, epic, recurring, and anxiety dreams were
most significant familiar dreams I chose to research and represent
in my work. Nightmares include feelings of fear and anxiety,
responding to trauma or situations in real life, and indicate a need
to confront or acknowledge a fear. Epic dreams are compelling
and vivid, possessing beauty and many symbols that can have
multiple interpretations, making them memorable. Recurring dreams have very little variation in content, and are meant to
resolve a conflict or problem. Anxiety dreams such as teeth falling
out are seen as a bad omen meaning a loss of confidence or fear
of being unprepared. After researching these fairly common
dreams, I knew I could make artwork in response to my personal
experiences an audience could relate to. My dream research
influenced my overall concept and choice of dreams to represent.
The Surrealist movement in art history provided context for
historical impact on my work. Surrealism dealt with odd,
unexpected juxtapositions of elements in art and was devoted to
liberating the unconscious through dream analysis and free
association.3 I studied artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark
Rothko, Salvador Dali, and Val Britton, taking inspiration from
their use of color, shape, line and composition in abstraction.
Each artist interested me in theory, technique, or subject.
3 Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 4th ed. Saddle River: Pearson, 2011, Print. [16 Nov. 2015].

 Salvador Dali’s surreal paintings provoked thought and emotional
responses, depicting his personal dreams in a unique, strange
way. Jackson Pollock’s paint dripping method and layering
inspired my handling of the paint and materials. Rothko’s colorful
paintings evoked feelings, inspirational for the reaction I wanted
my work to possess. Val Britton’s dreamy maps inspired my
aesthetic and composition in collages.
Alongside intellectual research, I used technical
experimentation in abstract studies to physically research
throughout the year. With my first collages, I experimented with
materials rather than making larger, finished works. In abstract
paintings, I created compositions trying out many different layers
and colors. Returning to collage, I combined the studies and
experiments with materials, application, and color into a finalized
process of art making. Visual elements of art such as color,
shape, edges, and line work stylistically influenced my work.
Varying vigor in brush strokes, line drawings, and mark making helped distinguish energies and feelings between dreams, while
shape and color variety conveyed different feelings.
During the thesis course, my work evolved in several ways;
the most substantial change was the types of dreams my collages
represented. My work began as rectangular collages, transitioning
into abstract painting, then returning to collage. Over time, I
continued to incorporate elements from personal dreams into my
collages and made it my individual interpretation of a common
dream experience. I experimented more with varying methods of
paint and material application rather than the materials
themselves. This semester my work began with mainly paint and
color variety, evolving to a wide variety of colors, shape, texture
and form of collage that was much more interesting and in depth.
Not only physically, but conceptually my collages my collages changed from
specific dreams to significant dream categories. Broadening my
concept to types of dreams made it much easier to design
elements, composition, and color schemes to convey my idea and relate to the audience. Before, I tried to depict specific dreams,
which proved much more difficult to portray to an audience than a
generalized idea.
Throughout the year, I changed a lot about the physical
appearance and concept of my thesis. The mixed media collages
go through many stages before being considered a finished work;
I find myself creating layers until the final result is much different
than the first product. My initial process began by recalling a
recent dream, writing in my dream journal, researching the
meaning through symbols, and reflection through collages to
visually record dreams. For my final work, I made a culmination
of each dream type and used a recipe combining past
experimentation and discoveries to make generalized collages.
Using colortranslate , and other parts from previous specific
dreams, I translated that information into a broader depiction of
dream types, rather than a singular dream. I picked dreams that
stood out to me and were significant enough to visually translate the experience.
My final thesis work possessed various uses of color, shape,
and symbols to represent the paradigm of common dreams as
well as provoking emotional response and curiosity. “Incubus”
represented nightmares, consisted of dark colors and sharp
edges, while “Hypnagogic” represented epic dreams using bright
colors and organic shapes. “Recrudesce” represented recurring
dreams by repeated pattern, and “Foreboding” represented
anxiety dreams with high energetic marks and paper cutouts of
teeth. All collages were 18 by 24 inches in size and similar
composition layouts, but revealed very different emotions,
symbols, and energies. In my work, line, shape, space, color was
used for meaning, while pattern, form, and texture were added for
aesthetic purposes. My collages had many layers represented
underlying hidden meanings dreams can possess. Consisting of
mixed media on drawing paper with layers of India ink, acrylic
paint, gesso, paper, Mylar, found materials, and pen, there is a lot of subject matter to contemplate. The
display of my senior thesis included four collages hung in the
DAAP Library Case in a square formation. Four collages seemed
an appropriate amount as a series, not too overwhelming and all
had a connection. The pieces hung on the wall without a border,
and the viewer could get close and see the many layers and
materials each collage had.
My art fits with the current art practice by using concept to
make formal decisions while creating visual work. My process is
guided by my concept when considering the color scheme,
symbols, shapes, and energy. My collages are a shared
experience open to interpretation, placing value in the viewer’s
ability to create their own personal connection to the work instead
of revealing specifics removing ambiguity. I find it valuable to
have mystery in artwork so the viewer is curious and creates their
own conclusions.
During this process, I learned about myself, what kind of art I enjoy making, and why I love being an artist. Interpreting shared
experiences from my own personal perspective and bringing
together separate materials to create something unique and
thought provoking is what I enjoyed most. From conducting
research, hours of experimentation, and final execution, my thesis
taught me the importance of knowing why I make the decisions I
do. After questioning and thinking about the reasoning behind my
thesis beyond my interest in dreams, I was able to come up with a
better concept which resulted in more successful work, as well as
having a better understanding of myself as an artist.
In conclusion, through research of dreams and
experimentation of various materials, my work evolved into
abstract collages depicting my personal
my personal interpretation
on the paradigm of dreams. My work contains emotion, self
discovery, and subconscious thoughts that can be related to a
general audience through shared experience of sleeping.






In Progress Works throughout Thesis Production:

Screen shot 2015-12-08 at 9.01.00 PM




Screen shot 2015-12-08 at 9.00.53 PM




Final Thesis Work:





“Incubus” 2016

18′ x 24′

Mixed Media Collage



“Hypnagogic” 2016

18′ x 24′

Mixed Media Collage


“Foreboding” 2016

18′ x 24′

Mixed Media Collage


“Recrudesce” 2016

18′ x 24′

Mixed Media Collage








“Dream Moods: Type of Dreams.” Dream Moods: Type of Dreams. 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Third Edition. Trans. by A. A. Brill. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913;, 2010. [16 Nov. 2015].

Hartmann, Ernest, Robert Kunzendorf, Rachel Rosen, and Nancy Gazells Grace. “Contextualizing Images in Dreams and Daydreams.” Dreaming 11.2 (2001): 97-104. Web. 3 Feb. 2016.

States, Bert O. “Dreams, Art and Virtual Worldmaking.” Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams. 13.1 (2003). Web. 19 Mar. 2016.

“Sleep – Types and Stages of Sleep – REM Sleep.” Sleep – Types and Stages of Sleep – REM Sleep. Web. 21 Apr. 2016. <;.

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 4th ed. Saddle River: Pearson, 2011. Print.

[1] “Dream Moods: Type of Dreams.” Dream Moods: Type of Dreams. 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. <;.



Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Third Edition. Trans. by A. A. Brill. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1913;, 2010. [16 Nov. 2015].


[3] Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 4th ed. Saddle River: Pearson, 2011. Print.



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