Donald Welch

Lucid dreaming and the Surreal: Accessing the unconscious to produce creative visual outcomes


The unconscious has long been considered a major source of creativity and dreams have been seen as a means of tapping into this reservoir of all that is strange, unreal and sometimes disturbing. The interpretation of dreams formed an important part of psychoanalysis right from the outset. More recently, consciousness science has distanced itself from the psychoanalytical approach, likening it to ‘the Dark Ages’ of dream research [Revonsuo 2010]. The enduring power of dreams as generators of creative imagery and bizarre ideas is, however, not to be dismissed. For the Surrealists dreams were considered a revolutionary force and central to their work, and the originality of much of their output may be attributed to dream imagery.

This paper describes how it is possible to explore the realm of the unconscious through induced lucid dreaming. This has been done over a period of several years with undergraduate students from design and the visual arts as a means of engendering creative thinking. Based on the work of Johnstone [1992] this technique allows elements of the unconscious to infiltrate the conscious mind, giving rise to unlikely and unexpected combinations of narrative and image that may produce some remarkable outcomes.

Revonsuo, Antti 2010 Consciousness: The science of subjectivity, Psychology Press, East Sussex, UK. Johnstone, Keith 1992, IMPRO: Improvisation and the Theatre, Theatre Arts Books, New York.

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Donald Welch:

Donald Welch has worked as a designer in both the UK and Australia, specialising in visual communication design, with an emphasis on typography. His experience includes designing major wayfinding projects for public and private sites, branding for government and private institutions, and publication design. He has taught these subjects for over twenty years. He developed the Master of Design program in 1999 and then assisted in the transformation of this into the Master of Design Futures from 2007. His research focus is on developing effective methods of teaching creative problem solving, particularly when applied to visual communication. He is the Convenor of the Transnational Design Program at Queensland College of Art Griffith University and is a Fellow of the Design Institute of Australia.