Taking a cue from the Surrealists

The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali

As part of my “Picture Perfect” class that I’m teaching (a creative writing class for kids that takes inspiration from art history) we tried some automatic writing this week. It was a good fit, as we were looking at Surrealist artwork. The Surrealists really believed in breaking the boundaries between reality and dreams, and I thought automatic writing would be a good way to shake up my students.

First, we just tried five minutes of pure automatic writing, in which the kids could not pause. Most of them found this exercise fairly easy, which surprised me somewhat. My students so often seem obsessed with outcome, so I’m glad they could just shrug and set themselves free.

Our second exercise was to try some writing after lucid dreaming. In this case, I put the students into dream state by leading them through a breathing exercise and then playing them some meditation music. This part lasted for about fifteen minutes, and I found that most of them escaped into dream state quite easily. The key to this, of course, is to have a quiet room that is free from distraction and interruption.

Once I brought them out of dream state, the students could not speak, but had to write uninterrupted for ten minutes. This writing is private; I didn’t ask to see it. Afterwards, we discussed the experience. The students all had a variety of reactions to the activity, but I think it’s safe to say that most found it quite interesting to try and find inspiration from a different angle.

I’ve led this activity (and similar ones) quite a few times and, in my experience, the younger the students the easier to put them into dream state. I suppose us adults find it much harder to shut down and shut off!

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