Recently a friend introduced me to the work of photographer Jerry Uelsmann from my home state of Florida. His black-and-white montage images are dreamlike and captivating. Thick, gnarled tree roots grow into a dilapidated house. Objects fly over reflective lakes—a naked woman or round, dandelion-like trees. Plants grow out of carpets and furniture. There’s a definite connection to the surrealism of Salvador Dali.
Surrealism comes from the prefix “sub”(changed to sur-), as in subconscious, and “realism.” Literally, it means “under realism.” Surrealists are not bound by what they see but are free to create images out of their imaginations. That’s why there is a dreamlike quality.
I’ve rarely seen surreal art hanging in people’s homes. I wonder why that is. Maybe it’s for reasons similar to why we rarely share our dreams. We either forget or we’re a little embarrassed by them. (If I dreamed of a naked woman flying over a pool of water, I probably wouldn’t share that with my family and friends, no matter how memorable.)
I’m no Freudian but I do think dreams can tell us important things about ourselves. And if we believe the Bible, we have to admit that God occasionally speaks through dreams. Pharaoh had a surreal dream about skinny cows gobbling up fat cows and shriveled ears of grain consuming healthy ones. Joseph interpreted it as God’s warning of a coming famine (Gen. 41). Gideon was encouraged when he overheard a man telling a friend his dream: Behold, I dreamed a dream, and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it, that the tent lay along (Judges 7:13). The dream was interpreted as a sign of coming victory in battle. In neither case was the dream straightforward. God didn’t appear and say he’s going to send a famine or give victory. What strikes me about both these passages is how God speaks through normal dreams, surreal images like Uelsmann’s photos.
If God can speak to us through dreams, he can speak to us through art. The question is, Are we listening?