I dreamt last night about an art theory professor of mine. He taught the intro course in my art degree program and he had a carefully cultivated techno dude persona. He’d been a revelation of sorts in my first year, because he taught that art could be content rich, that making it could be an intellectual exercise and that challenging art wasn’t just another bit of pretty-pretty, not just something oozed or hiccuped by an idiot savant.
I lost respect for him later in my degree because he started sleeping with his students, thereby compromising his ability to ahem grade their intellectual work.
So I made him an old-fashioned, Baroque style playbill and posted it on his office door. It read: “The Chilly Prince Cometh! Soon To the Crossed Legs Seminary for Girls”. The art department was housed in what was once a Catholic seminary for Jesuits, the student body taking art was overwhelmingly female and the faculty were mostly men; these were the references I was making in the playbill. When it appeared on his door, the Chilly Prince was upset enough to try and track down its maker (in vain). But he left it up until later in the year when he carefully took it down and kept it in his office.
In my dreams he’s still a twenty-six year old boyish dandy and he pops up because he symbolizes the creative and intellectual combined. Last night he was trying to befriend me, and as we sat outside the art building in the Spring sunshine, he took a piece of clear plastic, some kind of vacuum-formed packaging and with an exaggerated look of concentration manipulated it, shaping it into a mask. “It must be a portrait of me, since he wants to make friends”, I thought. But when he held it up for me and the other students sitting around, it was indeed a very cleverly made portrait—of himself!
The dream’s joke is on me, and it’s one I must really enjoy because I keep playing the same one on myself: I dream up art work and then attribute it to other people in the scenario. I expected the professor to do my portrait, but instead I get a transparent version of his face. There I was, admiring the piece along with everyone else and yet —if I pull the focus to zoom out of this dreamy tableau, escaping all of the funhouse mirrors and nested doll imagery of my subconscious….Finally comes the realization: Just who do I think authored this whole thing for chrissake?
I’m bemused and amused by my creative mind’s efforts to befriend me, by this lifelong pranking narrative about artistic agency. Here’s a dream that smilingly tells me “of course the professor’s mask is transparent; you see through him, you have agency. Wake up and profess your art. “