A DREAM ABOUT MY UNBUTTONDOWNABLE MIND
“When I first woke, I dismissed the dream as dull and unimportant, but then I realized that it was a comment on Nonconformity. I lived in New York city and was loosely-attached to a group of thirty-somethings, all roughly my age. We attended a well-established art center where the whole idea was to draw buttons. Nothing else, only buttons… the potential models of which were displayed all over the walls, stuck on pins. Before we sat at the long, open tables with our sketch paper, we were to select our model buttons and bring them to our place and proceed to make art.
The trouble was that they were all bland, white buttons , mostly large, but with no distinctive features. Just plain white buttons. Everyone else would get happily to work, but I spent lots of time at the wall trying to figure out how to use this dull conglomeration creatively. Maybe shading? But there were no uneven surfaces to create shadows. I remember trying to include a bumpy pebble to jazz up the composition, but somehow, that was scotched by the woman in charge. The only sketching that ever took place for me was in my mind, wondering how I could apply my minimal artistic skills to create something interesting with such terribly limited material; especially since the whole group was working with exactly the same buttons, day after day, year after year. None of them complained or even seemed to notice that there was a problem. In fact, they loved the ease and simplicity of the assignment and cheerfully spent their entire time concentrating upon an exact rendering of their chosen button, or buttons; while I spent my entire time merely trying to find something to work with.
It all came to a head one day, when we were sitting at lunch together at a long table. I was at one end and the owner of the art clinic was at the other. All the happy-camper women were sitting along either side. With no criticism in mind, I asked the woman in charge how anyone could draw an interesting picture with such dull, limited material for models. I was taken aback by her attitude, which was to lean towards me with venom in her eyes and say, “Well, if you don’t like it, you can just get out, right now!”
I don’t think I left. Perhaps I really didn’t have that option, as I needed to remain with these other women; but I returned to the task of trying to come up with something worthy of drawing, knowing that I would get no help from the leader and also knowing that I had now stepped on her toes by attacking her own life’s work, and she would have none of it, or of me. Neither she, nor the others, even saw the inherent limits.”
When I was telling this dream to someone else, he immediately understood the underlying comparison to much of what passes for meaningful life in the outside world. He remembered attending church and hearing exactly the same words, week after week and going through the same motions. Sometimes, even the “original” sermon sounded canned, like a dull button being pulled off the wall and used again and again. Hymns were chosen from the same book and seeded into the cookie-cutter services all year long, ad infinitum. And yet, the congregation never complained, or thought to complain, and even became defensive when anyone suggested that there could be more to a spiritual life.
Any independent thinker, stuck in this sort of a society, is reduced to bleak frustration, picking through the selection of nothing-special, hoping to eventually find some way to be creative. This dream could apply to anyone stuck in a dull marriage, a dull job, a dull diet, a dull town, a lack of education and many more immovable, unimaginative life situations. Such dreamers could become, deep within their hearts, the non-conformist who knows that there surely is more than this to life. They long to find a way to express the creativity that begs to be released from their own inner self. They really don’t mind the button-lovers. But they are so desperate to know that there are others like themselves out there in the wider world. If only they will act upon the slit-eyed advice and walk out of that buttoned-down art center forever, they might just bump into like-minded souls and find a whole universe full of interesting subjects to sketch.