On Possibility

Going Places, paper collage, 2021

Of the various subjective experiences of creativity that I’ve attempted to describe over the years, the one that probably fascinates me most (next to the role of novelty in creativity) is the feeling, or sense, of possibility that seems inherent in creative work. An example: I flip through a 1953 National Geographic magazine, and on certain days (though, unfortunately, not everyday), it seems every other page contains images that are full of possibility. Oh, look at her! or oh, look at that! There’s something there! I need to do something with that! The sense that there’s something there, there’s something more, something ineffable, and psychologically resonant about an image/text/song such that it inspires us to create. That’s possibility.

So, where does that feeling come from? What is it, and why is it important? Here are some thoughts.

Possibility is a product of the unconscious.

As I continue to make my way through Ernest Jones’s Papers On Psychoanalysis, I am moved to consider the subjective experience of possibility in terms of unconscious associations. In fact, that is, I think, likely what we’re sensing during moments of possibility: associations. I see a picture of an orange, and for a moment, it is more than an orange. I see a photograph of a man who is smiling, and my emotional response is exaggerated. He is more than just a photograph. There is something he reminds me of, even if I can’t articulate what that is.

Whenever I encounter an image or text in this way, I have an insatiable urge to remake it according to my inner vision, as it is to me. The initial sensing of possibility is, to my mind, something like the unconscious saying, Pay attention! There’s something special here. This image means something to you. This is, perhaps, in some ways similar to experiences or objects Jung refers to as numinous. 

Possibility may be linked to sensitivity.

I also have to ask myself if sensitivity plays a role in the experience of possibility. That is, are those who are considered highly sensitive (i.e., we tend to take in more sensory information than others and may also have a greater awareness of our inner world) more likely to experience moments of possibility? If, as Elaine Aron suggests, highly sensitive people notice everything, and our brains process and reflect on that information more deeply than others’, are our memories also more likely to form novel/unusual/qualitatively different associations than others’, at least some of the time?

That is, is the orange from the previous section more likely to be “more than an orange” for a highly sensitive person? It seems logical to me that the answer would be, “yes”. If I happen to notice oranges in my environment every time I’m around them, and my brain reflects on that information for long periods, I am surely more likely to have a different view of oranges (including a string of unconscious/preconscious associations) from someone who barely notices or thinks about them. (As a side note, I realized as I was selecting images for this post, that I use oranges a lot in my artwork. I wonder what that says about me…)

A Slice of Paradise, paper collage, 2022

Not all moments of possibility are the same.

I have a tendency to think of my collage practice as a kind of inner work, that my art mirrors various aspects of my inner world. Whenever I grab my scissors and glue, I am preparing for a journey inward to the depths of my imagination. I sense possibility in an image or images and I set about remaking them. 

Conversely—and interestingly, I think—my subjective experience of photography is one of being driven outward. When I venture outdoors with my camera, watching and listening for birds and other wildlife, I am wholly absorbed. I am, in a very real sense, part of the silence: I am present. I have a quiet mind. I am alert and atuned to the here-and-now of my environment. What’s more: as a photographer, I have the subjective sense that I am trying to capture the magic, or miraculousness, of the moment, of my subject and its essence, something external to me, which I witness but in which I do not participate…which, of course, is not quite accurate.I am very much a part of my photographs, and I think a lot of the “essence” or “magic” that I feel I witness in the outside world probably comes from my own unconscious mind.

The photo that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.

Scott Lorenzo

To be sure, there is an inner barometer that tells me when I’ve got the right photograph. Part of that is having an eye for composition, lighting, a sense of beauty, etc. The other part is more far more intuitive (and difficult to put into words) and has to do with what a photograph communicates. It’s either right or it isn’t. When it’s right, it says what it should. That is, it’s aligned with what’s in my imagination. When it’s right, I’ve at least partially succeeded in recreating the subject as it is to me. When I sense it’s right, I have experienced possibility in my subject. I have seen more than just a bird (or whatever I’m photographing), and succeeded in making that total vision a reality.

16 responses to “On Possibility”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your deep dive into the topic of possibility, as I do all of your essays. I had to laugh about your inclusion and reflection on oranges – a favorite scent and treat of mine. The color itself vibrates high energy. Your description of photography also resonated with me and makes me excited to be out taking photographs later this week. 😁 Thank you for sharing your writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After reading your interesting reflection, I have come to the conclusion that creative imagination is not just an aesthetic issue for you: it has become a vital theme in your life. .. Eso es fantástico!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is a vital theme in my life. As Rollo May says (I’m paraphrasing): creativity is not an activity that can be scheduled for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. It is an attitude. It is our relationship with the world. On a more fundamental level, talking and learning about creativity brings me joy. Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What you discuss here about “possibility” is really well written. And I love your exploration of inner versus outward possibility..both lead to creation that is unique and a beautiful balance of where art explodes from. And I love the oranges in your work 🙂 a watermark, if you will, of something unique to you that does not need explanation 🙂 great entry

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, my friend! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. That moment of sensing the “possibility” in something is one of my most cherished moments in creating. 😊 And I’m happy you like the orange…lol no explanation required.🍊


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