Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Review: Art from Dreams by Susan Levin


Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage, and Poetry
By Susan Levin

Art from Dreams:  My Jungian Journey inCollage, Assemblage, and Poetry is a new book released in September 2014 that covers one woman’s experience in processing her dreams through artwork and poetry.  Susan Levin is an artist from Los Angeles, and as she wondered what her dreams meant and went through Jungian analysis, she decided to further explore her dreams by creating large pieces of found object sculpture, collage, and assemblage pieces as themes began to arise. 

After a very brief introduction and foreward to the book, the first section is entitled “My Jungian Dreams,” and included pictures of her artwork from this process, and all are paired with poems that she later wrote to go with the dream/artwork.  Her titles invoke the images of Jungian archetypes, such as mother, fate, home, mandalas, and even a dream including Picasso.  Levin’s poetry is short and to the point, and gives, to some extent, illumination to the artwork.  Certain artworks are more self-explanatory than other pieces, and Levin uses a variety of materials to make up her sculptures and collages, oftentimes in a shadowbox style but in others, she is more whimsical using items such as rusted saws or wood palettes. 

Part Two of the book is entitled “Nocturnes,” and included artwork about her continuing dreams.  However, there is no poetry associated with these works of art, and there is no particular Jungian association or analysis with these, though more familiar images such as mandalas or archetypal images appear.  Levin has titled them, given the dimensions and materials, but no other information is written in the second section.  In her artwork throughout the book, she often uses large found objects, things that might be found in an antique store or flea market, or even perhaps just thrown out for trash.  However, she repurposes them in often very orderly and compositionally pleasing arrangements. 

Dreams and artwork are both very personal things, and the poetry included in the book adds a depth to both for the viewer to take in and decipher and interpret as they see things through their own lens.  The book is nicely bound, and has an aesthetically pleasing layout of the beautiful photographs of Levin’s artwork.  However, as an art therapist who is trained to study and to interpret art (to a certain degree), I would have been very interested to hear Levin’s thoughts on her own work.  The only text throughout the book is in the introduction and foreword, and the titles and information for the artwork.  It is a book merely for viewing and is somewhat open-ended as to what each reader/viewer would take away from the visuals.  Even if Levin did not feel comfortable getting into any details about her dreams and the artwork and poetry related to them, which I would find entirely understandable, I would still have been interested in reading about her process in creating them, what it was like for her as she created her pieces, and even what she felt after she finished.  Insights that she may have gained would have been intriguing for me to hear about, to know how the art helped illuminate the concepts, archetypes, ideas, and symbols that she was consciously or unconsciously representing. 

Overall, I found the book intriguing in its concept and beautifully presented.  However, being a therapist as well as an artist, I felt wanting more to learn beyond the artwork, which was left only in the view of the beholder.  Though I have training in interpreting certain trends in artwork, one of the emphases I put in my work with my clients is that first and foremost I learn about it from the creator before I rely on my interpretive impressions, and so I found myself looking for this aspect as well in this book so that I could learn what the art meant to Levin herself.  For instance, the mandalas that she included I could analyze through the Great Round of Mandala Theory from Joan Kellogg to give myself a better grasp on what Levin was capturing in her art, but I also would have loved to hear her thoughts and meanings behind it as well.  The art’s connection to Jungian theory could be inferred to certain extent, but further exploration or explanation could be more enlightening to those who are interested in discovering more for themselves and seeing someone else’s journey that they took the time to document both in art and in print. 

Regardless, I hope that this book can inspire others to pursue art as a means for self-exploration and self-expression, whether it is for dream analysis or other pursuit such as to express feelings, introspection, or inner processing.  Levin’s example of taking the time to go beyond Jungian analysis alone into her talent and motivation to create art for a greater understanding can be a source of inspiration to would-be artists around the world.

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