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Advice #9: Daydreaming

9. Freud called art “socially valid daydreaming” (Nicholas Delblanco’s ‘Dear Franz K’)

Ah, Mr. Freud. How’ve you been? It’s been a while.

But here you are. Talking about art. Describing art. “Socially valid daydreaming” - eh? Let’s unpack that, as you’ve been know to do.

No, wait, let’s not. No need to get Freudian on it. 

I’ll go sociological on it and just ask why all daydreaming isn’t “socially valid”? Are we too busy working? Is it inappropriate to daydream? Perhaps it’s a sin? Interesting coming from a guy who put so much thought into night dreaming. Is that socially valid?


I wonder if what Freud’s getting at here is more simple than it’s letting on: we let our artists dream and we reward them for it. There could be something beautiful in that simplcity: sculpture, painting, poetry as daydreams. As physical manifestations of an artist’s mind. I’m good with that.

What does it mean as a piece of advice?

Well, certainly it can be read as a license to daydream. To walk around and think about my art. Or sit on a bench and do so. Or not think about my art or my work at all. Instead, I can spend an hour flaneuring around some Hanoi avenues, headphones in, drowning in the Feist version of Lover’s Spit. That too is daydreaming. And will it manifest itself as art? Well, perhaps not directly. But it could indirectly. It could become a character, it could introduce a word or the motivation to change a word.


Perhaps I read the advice as an insistence that authors should daydream. That it’s somehow part of the process and that Freud’s comment perhaps is less about the art we see or read (the finished product) and more about the process. Art as a verb; which includes these moments of meandering daydreams. 

And then I googled the phrase. And that opened a whole other side of this. But this is my blog, so I’ll stick with what I had.

For the interested though, here’s Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings article on Freud’s day-dreaming essay. The quote that stands out:

“A piece of creative writing, like a day-dream, is a continuation of, and a substitute for, what was once the play of childhood.”

And there’s old Freud, again. 

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