I am not a good dreamer, or perhaps it is that I do not try to remember my dreams. I can often only remember their colors, the images and narratives remain fugitive. What I do remember of them is that they are not the clear-cut, hard-edged dreams of the Surrealists, but more gentle images that fade, emerge and pulse. They are like the paintings of Chagall, though I cannot claim his haunting, recurring imagery.
The difference between Chagall and the Surrealists is that the Surrealists started out with a symbol, whereas Chagall must find it during the painting by impulse.
Chagall's parents were Hasidics, members of a group of Jewish mystics. His dreamlike antirealism was acceptable to them and to Judaism that banned pictures of the outer reality because they disturbed the inner reality. Chagall's paintings have remained expressions of inner reality, for the spirit rather than for the outside world.
His images have come from his past, and though he has changed them into objects of fantasy their roots lie in the outer reality of his youth. In Russia when he was a child he went each summer with his Uncle Neuch to buy cattle from peasants and then watched shuddering as the gentle beasts were killed in his grandfather's slaughterhouse. He grew up in a world peopled with cows, hens, asses and horses. In this world lie the intense experiences that expand themselves in his dreams.
In "The Poet Reclining," 1915, we are given a worldly scene which might exist , but the landscape is placed above the reclining poet as if it is the image of his thoughts or his dreams. In other pictures he has allowed the dream to be more evident. The objects tumble about in space, gravity has gone and we are exploring the weightless regions of dreams. The poet and the painter both need the state of being alone to dream, and the state of experiencing worldly drama. Chagall used images from his worldly drama to emphasize the realities of his dream world.
When we dream, the size of the objects we dream about is governed by their importance in our dream and not by exterior reality. We join improbable things together, and unlikely things and people perform improbable roles. This imaginative feast is often denied or forgotten by the dreamer who dismisses it as nonsense. However, the colors we dream of are significant and the mysteries of dreams must have reasons and meanings. For Chagall, dreams are a first, and each object is accorded importance by size and by intense, particular color.
Throughout his work he presents us with the old mysteries of birth and death, of love and hate, of tenderness and cruelty. When he paints the most subtle and persuasive tales of his own love, they remain stronger and more expansive subjects than the unpleasant aspects of his life. The slaughter-house and the collapse of the ideal of the Russian Revolution remain rooted in political statement and fact, while the mysteries of religion, of dreams and of love cannot be pinned down by paint or words; they remain as hints just surfacing through the paint. In dreams nothing is clear-cut; it is left to those who interpret dreams to pin them down, and then the magic is lost.