On Imagination

The Sky Is Smiling, paper collage, 2022

To see, to hear, means nothing. To recognize (or not to recognize) means everything. 

André Breton

I think of my art as an articulation of my inner life. That all of the scenes that take shape in my collage art (and poetry, too) also exist within me. There is a mystery in that which I love: that is, the mystery of human imagination. Indeed, it is a rare occasion when I am able to explain clearly and succinctly what I believe my artwork means. I like not knowing. No, I love not knowing. It is the mystery that makes it meaningful. 

It is also, I think, the element of mystery that creates something akin to a mystical or religious experience—the feeling that, when I am creating, I am acting as a conduit, or channel, for “something else”, something almost otherworldly or unreal.

But, what’s the “something else”? What do I think is really happening in those moments, and what is the role of imagination in that process?

First, let me clarify by saying I don’t define “imagination” as the ability to conjure images at will. That, I think, is a very small part of what comprises our imaginations. Here are some thoughts.

Imagination is a loss of separateness.

It is the recognition of ourselves in another—in another person, in an animal or landscape, in a character from a novel, a scrap of discarded paper, or a cardboard box. I would suggest that this “moment of recognition” is where the feelings of awe, of ecstasy, or even love that often accompany or precede creativity come from.

Imagination is the outreaching of mind…the bombardment of the conscious mind with ideas, impulses, images and every sort of psychic phenomena welling up from the preconscious.

Rollo May

What psychoanalysts might call a kind of projection, or a “leaky” subconscious. Imagination is the outpouring of inner images onto the outer world, such that a third image—a new image—may be born. 

Imagination is a way of perceiving.

Maslow talks a great deal about what it means to see “unitively”, suggesting that many self-actualizing people encounter the world in a manner that allows them to see the sacred in the everyday. In the essay, “Theory Z”, he suggests self-actualizers may be divided broadly into two groups: those who experience episodes of self-transcendence (i.e., artists, poets, musicians, other creators), and those who are more pragmatic thinkers (i.e., businesspeople, entrepreneurs, politicians, scientists). The difference between them: pragmatic thinkers deal with the here-and-now, operate within the confines of concrete reality. Transcenders are able to perceive the stuff of everyday life within the context of eternity and, as a result, are able to perceive (or feel they are perceiving) the “sacred” or “miraculous”.

What I think: the latter see imaginatively. What Maslow refers to as the perception of eternity is a function of imagination. It is the natural “outreaching of mind”, the involvement of the subconscious, or preconscious, primordial images and the emotions they carry. That’s where those feelings of “eternity,” “otherworldliness,” “surreality,” or even of encountering “the sacred” in the everyday (or in a work of art) come from. 

What’s more: children see imaginatively. We were all, at one time, able to see imaginatively without trying…which leads me to my last point.

Our imaginations transform the everyday into the extraordinary.

Without the imaginative encounter—that is, without the fusion of inner and outer worlds—I doubt we would ever be able to perceive the extraordinary. I think we need those subconscious projections, those “leaky” images, impulses, and ideas. They tell us who we are. They help us make meaning. That outpouring of the unreal is what gives reality its shine.

12 responses to “On Imagination”

  1. So much to love about this. I am very much about keeping this process a mystery and not explaining it away. I love the Breton quote. And, “Maslow refers to as the perception of eternity is a function of imagination.” Wonderful!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well written, my friend. I love your concluding sentence. “That outpouring of the unreal is what gives reality its shine.” It truly does.. and being able to express “the shine” through art is such a privilege for artists. Conduits of streaming beauty that our imagination, our letting go of all we think we know, and allowing creation to pour out (whether we understand its meaning or not) is such an honor and an experience that not only impacts the artist herself but impacts the real world. Well done, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It is a blessing to experience the mystery of our own imaginations…and of channeling beauty, of tapping into “the source”. I’m delighted this post resonates!

      Like

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