There is an equivalence between dreaming and visual art which facilitates the research of phenomenal consciousness through them. I propose a research program, called “Cognitive Art”, which aims to study dreaming and visual art in practice in order to expand our understanding of experienced consciousness. The practical study in this context means the reproduction of dream imagery and experience in pictures and artistic experience. The intention is the develop methods to solve the mind-body problem, how mental experience is related to physically observable body. I think the mind-body problem can be better understood and studied by studying dreams and visual art as models of consciousness in its altered states. A scientific model is useful for experimental and empirical research, because it facilitates manipulation and observation of the studied phenomena. Dream is a mental model of consciousness, because in dreams consciousness is altered to a pure mental form, which is isolated from the outside world. Visual art is a physical model of consciousness, because it is the visible and tangible equivalent of dreaming.
Visual art and dreaming can be considered as equivalent models of consciousness because they are similar especially in three ways: formal, functional and procedural.
Formally, both visual art and dreaming are visual expressions. Dream is a visual expression organ, a biological inner screen. Visual art is a body extension which expresses the visual image as pictures on an outer screen. Both produce three-dimensional worlds with diverse elements, such as persons, objects, carrying narratives, thoughts and emotions between them. The expressed visual image equals to information of the experience in dreaming or during the production of visual artwork. This leads the way to understand the phenomenal consciousness in its formal attributes by making it visible and tangible.
Functionally, both visual art and dreaming are simulations. The simulation is a visual thinking function. Both visual art and dream produce alternative worlds to think about waking-real life issues, such as threats and problems from the waking life events. In course of the evolution, dream might contributed to our survival by training us in our dreams against threats and by solving our problems by thinking about them in our ‘free time’ during sleep. Two supporting arguments for the threat simulation function of dreams are the high presence of wild animals in children’s dreams and narrations, as well as in dreams and culture of hunter-gatherer societies. I add to these the abundance of dangerous animals in early cave paintings and monolithic sculptures. The threat simulation function is also closely related to creation of myths and the personification of nature forces in them. The problem-solving function of dreams can be associated with wish fulfillment dreams. Their counterpart in narrations are fairy tales and animal fables, where individual characters are struggling to solve their problems and achieve happiness. Creative aspect of visual art is closely related to problem-solving function. A further function attributed to dreams is the memory-waving function. This function as well can be associated with the function of visual art as an artifact of cultural memory. Last but not least, even the theory which gives dream no function at all and says that it is a result of random brain activation, finds its counterpart in works of art which make use of random and meaningless patterns to achieve recognizable resemblances and figures, as in the case of many Surrealist techniques, such as decalcolmania. The study of functional equivalence of dreams and visual art can contribute to the understanding of the function of consciousness.
Procedurally, both visual art and dreams follow metaphorical processes. The metaphorical process improves the simulation function, by exchanging dream elements of real life threats and problems with metaphorical ones. A metaphor makes a comparison by directly relating one thing to another unrelated thing. Metaphor is the transfer of information or meaning from a source domain to a target domain. Both dreams and visual art make use of metaphors. I think, metaphors enhance the simulation function of dreaming. This happens when the components of the real problem are replaced with their metaphorical counterparts in dream simulation. When waking life issues are transformed into metaphors in dream simulation constitute a model. This is a metaphorical model of the real life issue. Just like any other modeling, the metaphorical model simplifies the problem and enhances the search for the solution through metaphorical operations. Metaphorical operations enhance the model, for example through displacement by creating a distance between the model and the thinker to observe the problem from outside. The model distorts different parts and attributes in the model in order to focus on important aspects of the problem as well as tweaks them to find a solution. Compositions combine different elements of the problem and reveal previously unknown approaches. Condensations simplify the model by merging similarities together and leaving unnecessary parts out of the picture. Through these operations information is shaped to a visual image in form of metaphors. The visual expression, both in dreams and visual works of art, are shaped by metaphorical process.
Metaphorical process transforms the information to a visual image. The sensory perception of the world is represented in consciousness as images which provide an externalized experience. These sensory representations are re-represented as metaphors, i. e. as second or more orders of representations. The contents of consciousness are re-externalized through artistic experience as pictures. Artworks transfer artist’s experience to the viewer. On the receiver’s side the verbal understanding of metaphors requires interpretation. Interpretation is simply the translation of visual into verbal. Metaphors in language are verbal interpretations of visual metaphors.
Dream and art are often compared with each other. In English language, the word “dream” is frequently used to describe certain types of art. Dream is also an abundant element in visual works of art. However, the equivalences between dream and visual art are not brought together in all their extent, clearly and sufficiently in any artistic, philosophical or scientific literature before. Neither dream research seems to be make proper use of visual art in research, nor there are substantial and consistent approaches in visual art to cognitive science of dreaming. Since the uneasy and loose cooperation between psychoanalysis and Surrealism, there was not an adequate theory of dreaming in art. My aim here is to give an unified view about the equivalence between visual art and dreaming, build a vocabulary and provide examples of practical studies in order to set a motion for further inter-, trans- and post-disciplinary practice and research.