Inciting and Encouraging the ImaginationAs children, we develop our imaginations by envisioning a variety of circumstances, Custer’s last stand, the triumphant raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, being cowboys, riding horses, driving a locomotive, and driving a car. The ability was inherent, easy to do, easy to experience, easy to believe. Belief is at the basis of imagination. One cannot imagine something they don’t believe. So, as we grow up, our beliefs are challenged. The biggest change in belief for me, was the wonderful belief in Santa Claus, and later, in Superman. I have heard of kids jumping off their parent’s roof with a cape around their necks, believing they could fly. As grown-ups, we struggle with many beliefs, the existence of God, the responsibility of our law makers, and custodians of the public good. What is the driving force that challenges our ability to believe in something? Of, course there is our knowledge gained and experiences lived which temper our beliefs. That is somewhat governed by influential people around us, and by events which happen that appear to be unsettling. How do we respond to such incidents? We adopt a critical posture. In fact, that seems so right, that we embrace our ability to criticize ourselves, and eventually, others. Naturally, since it is human nature to be right in our choices, we justify our criticism as being “constructive.” Universities around the world accept this as an effective means to teach students, and evaluate professors. Customarily, researchers and educators utilize a critical approach, “constructive criticism” to evaluate and assist students in the creative process. However, criticism actually impedes creativity. Creativity depends upon complete belief, commitment and desire to share a distinct point of view with others, the audience, and recipients of the communication.
“Creation is the artist’s true function. But it would be a mistake to ascribe creative power to an inborn talent. Creation begins with vision,”(Henri Matisse). Imagination is a visual ability. Since creativity involves the development of one’s imagination, the question is whether or not the critical approach is the most effective method in encouraging and inciting the imagination. Criticism has been known as the “killer of creativity,”(Tony Haze).
This chapter addresses an alternative approach, which is non-critical and allows the researcher/educator an opportunity to engender creativity and self-mastery of the student.
Possibly, this heuristic approach is applicable to all teaching. The author’s experience is based upon teaching and performing, and developing professional and amateur performing artists, as actors and singers, who thrive on inspiration, not criticism. Inspiration engenders oxygen, which serves to bring about a state of enthusiasm, increasing belief.
Imagination plays a vital role and is the most valuable asset that visual and performing artists have. An artist uses the imagination to portray a character or to interpret a work of art. It might also be vital to architects, engineers, businesses, educators, and politicians.
The author originally researched the imaginative process in London and Paris, where he observed artists as they copied the masters, and could not see an ounce of criticism in their eyes. Their process was gentle, evaluative, looking at what they liked about their work, of each and every detail. After they exhausted that, they thought to themselves, “What would I like to change?” Immediately, they had a burst of enthusiasm, and went from pallet to
canvas with direction and verve. From this came the thesis that criticism in teaching could be counter-productive and actually inhibits a student’s ability to use the imagination, because it places attention on one’s lack of ability to perform well, rather than on the actual ingredients of the performance. If the talented student could be led to look at his/her work without criticism, their intuitive abilities would open them up to the beneficial change to be made in their creative/educational process. The teacher would thus be able to assist the student in their next level of achievement. In the case of the artist, he/she would be more able to get closer to the subject being created within their imagination, with more clarity and permission. Thus, a non-critical process works to improve the student’s attention, and enables him/her to utilize the rich treasures of their imaginations. There are obstacles which reduce the effectiveness of our imaginations. To imagine an event, a situation, a communication of thoughts, ideas, and images, one needs to have an understanding of the composition involved. One also needs a complete understanding of the traps that prevent the mind from imagining something. There are four basic traps which inhibit a person from assuming a viewpoint of a character or an interpretation of a work of art, which is essential to delivering a specific communication. The basic fundamental is rooted in how one places his/her attention.
ASSUMPTION: Should one make an assumption that the character is wrong, evil, misguided, misinformed or unintelligent, it will limit the performer’s ability to understand the viewpoint of that character. It is a well-known premise that people consider their thoughts and actions to be right, and rarely consider themselves as bad, sad, angry and negative, even though they may show that to others. Making assumptions impedes one’s ability to effectively use the imagination.
ATTITUDE: The second trap is to manufacture an attitude, which is pasting over the viewpoint something which hampers communication. It’s a barrier that imposes negativity between one person and another. It creates insincerity, and often, foolishness. It is an exterior fabrication that is in genuine. This barrier also distracts attention sufficiently to reduce the effectiveness of the imagination.
ASSOCIATION: The third trap is association. This occurs when a performer thinks “this character reminds me of so and so.” If one’s ever gone on a date and told the person they reminded you of someone, the impact is severe and unless the person is extremely forgiving, it would be the last date for you. Our imaginations operate on thought processes, and when you can imagine the reaction of the character (whom you are representing) would have, you would decide to hold that thought, and see something positive about that specific human being instead. We are all fragile creatures who want to find people who like, admire, and adore us for who we are.
ARBITRARY: The fourth trap is arbitrary, which is why they are labeled as the “Four A’s”. Arbitrary is by definition, something that comes out of the air, without rhyme or reason. I have known performers who utilize this trap; because they think it makes it more interesting. There is a difference between being “interesting” and actually interested in someone or something.
There is a power of the positive choice, which improves one’s level of interest, which is far more dramatic and effective than drawing attention to one’s self. When a performer places attention on self, again it reduces an ability to imagine properly, because it introverts attention which can engender a form of criticism. Evaluating which of the four A’s is operating, will help one to alter the choice, and find a more positive one.
The entire process of getting closer to another person’s viewpoint is not radical, abusive, and indifferent. It speaks out that we need to see and admire qualities in others that draw us nearer to them. One needs to relate to them positively, from the subject’s viewpoint.
In addition, as performers and artists we need to experience something significant, which is at the center and purpose of communication. It is an object lesson in life, as well. Often a performer thinks they need to lie to themselves in order to assume a viewpoint. Perhaps an attorney may make that choice when s/he is in the process of representing that person, and there may be consequences of that. However, a performer’s mission is a higher calling, one to experience joy in a viewpoint, and share that joy with an audience. It is an act of creating a bond with a character, which instructs us well. There is much truth in this method of approaching the work. This is the bridge that may exist in other fields and disciplines, as joy is not limited to artists, but can exist in all human endeavors.
“Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity, and where appropriate, profits.” (Edward de Bono, creativity writer) “I think, therefore I am!” It is true that our thoughts direct us in our actions. It has been said there are barriers which prevent fulfilling communication. Other than criticism, lying, and deceit, there is anger, which has its focus on stopping people, things, situations, and solutions. When a performer plays the emotion of anger, it drowns out the thought, and ends the communication. Anger removes opportunities to use our imagination. Instead, there are other emotions which add joy to the equation, such as antagonism, which has the point of attention on bantering back and forth, as a New York cab driver enjoys.
Once we put value on the thoughts we have, and on understanding how another person views the world, we are able to increase our level of joy in the work. It’s what attracts audiences, who are seeking relief from daily challenges and disappointments.
As one realizes how important these actions are, we are humbled by the opportunity to spread joy among the people we work with, we share our tasks with, and our lives with.
Our families are benefited and our relationships are nurtured. It indeed is a greater calling to contribute such joy and provide moments of enlightenment. Performers, and indeed others, have a need to understand how they can achieve balance and equilibrium, by being able to heuristically solve their problems, without the distractions of external criticism, consulting their own evaluation which is intimately connected to sensory receptors.
We all have feelings that can guide us when we seek answers. As teachers, we can provide basic fundamentals which serve to direct the attention to details of each performance, as an artist uses paint colors, shapes, light and shadows, line, and content to tell a story.
Imagination is all thought driven. Emotions provide support, and thought monitors the degree of effort needed to achieve results. There is no difference between a performing artist and an athlete’s preparation and performance. When the artist and athlete achieve maximum thought and action with minimal effort, the whole process appears effortless and that fact increases the amount of joy we all experience. When one increases the amount of joy, one is inspired and incited to use imaginative abilities.
Only then can we have fulfillment, as we utilize the treasures of our imagination, unfettered by any negative influence. One increases the ability to find positive solutions and remove tendencies to create additional problems, by properly focusing attention. Instead of accepting criticism, one needs to ask ourselves what we liked and what we would like to change. That way, we can become more confident, secure, knowledgeable and effective. The challenge remains; how can we exercise this premise in whatever research or instructional methods we pursue? Certainly, demand is there for more effective methods.
There are many areas which lack joyful pursuits, and joyful participants. It is possible to employ instruction and research without placing blame on the student or participants of the activity? Rather than rationalize failures, it might be wiser to investigate the heuristic alternatives. Once the reader investigates the possibility, further development in other fields may prove fruitful. There are many disciplines that may benefit, and it is the challenge many researchers and educators may enjoy investigating with a variety of applications and trials.
Nevertheless, there are so many valuable uses employed with imagination, which creates more positive solutions, more beneficial results, and pave the way toward increasing knowledge, producing enlightenment, and culminating in joyful pursuits. Criticism rarely brings us happiness. Instead, it creates doubt, divisiveness, and divorce- separating one from another. Criticism is a bitter pill compared to taking in an imaginative image, thought, idea, or concept. Imagination restores beauty, harmony and unconditional love uniquely in all arenas. Art can only be created by artists who have vibrant, stimulating minds filled with compassionate intentions. Imagination is more a vitamin than a pill.