The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Imagination and The Box

Image on right: The First Law of Thermodynamics by K.A. Cartwright, watercolor on paper

Imagine” is the most powerful word I know aside from the word “love.” It’s essential to artmaking and the process by which we conceive ideas for our work. Webster’s defines imagine as the ability to form a mental image of something that is not present or that is not the case.

Joseph Joubert once stated that “Imagination is the eye of the soul.”

Muhammad Ali said “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

and, Napoleon Bonaparte felt that “Imagination rules the world.”

The power of imagination cannot be overstated. For artists, it’s our greatest and most essential asset. So, I’m wondering why we often choose to underutilize this asset. Here are a few self-imposed reasons:

1. Inhibitions and fears
2. Biases and prejudices
3. Lack of confidence in one’s own imagination (which leads to conformity and imitation)
4. Unwillingness to expand one’s horizons to learn about more possibilities
5. No sense of adventure

Perhaps you can add to this list.

Since childhood I’ve indulged my daydreams. I think they deserve lots of my time although only a small fraction of my imaginings become works of art. But, being a daydreamer as a child was difficult. Teachers, and sometimes parents, scolded us children to stop daydreaming and pay attention; to "get our heads out of the clouds." It’s as though society conspired to beat the imagination out of its children so that we would all think alike and “behave.” We grew up to become unimaginative adults and then face the confusing task of contributing to “think tanks” when we enter the work force. “Think outside the box” is our mantra. Well, who built the box and put our imaginations into it??

Where is the key to unlocking this box? We’ve had it in our hands all along. As adults, we control how much or little we use our imaginations and our art reflects our choice. My persoanl fault is in allowing inhibitions to interfere and that’s something I’ll continue to work at.

Our old friend, Anonymous, once said that imagination is intelligence having fun. Are you having fun?


Linda Roth said...

Yes. My imagination is in tact. I've managed to hold on to it for seven decades. It's what makes me funny. It's what makes me weird. It's what makes me interesting and me interested. It's what makes me make some of the strangest looking paintings I've seen on a regular basis. I call it the child in me. The kid has never been lost.

Dan Kent said...

YES I'm having fun!! (I can't believe that I'm the first to see your post - never happens.)

It's interesting. A few years ago when I decided to revisit my creative side, first it was a trickle and then it was a flood - it was as though I'd had eye surgery. It is a different way of thinking/seeing and not always compatible with the analytical thought I need in my working life. There is some tension there.
Very welcome tension.

For years I have admired creative people. I couldn't stand to just admire - they inspired me to do. I have sought to imitate them in writing, music and art. Sometimes I write stories, poems. My art is constrained for now by design, because of my ideas of what I want my art to become. It won't always be, though, I expect if goals change.

Dan Kent said...

Okay second.

Carol Schiff Daily Painting said...

It it all to obvious that your imagination is in fine shape and very powerful.

Your paintings continue to blow my mind!

Anonymous said...

Dan- your imagination shines even in your comments. You always make me laugh.
Another wonderful post Kathy. You aren't posting as often, but the substance is worth the wait.
The last quilt I made I titled "Imagine". On it I wrote: imagine possibilities; create works of art; grow the artist within; dream without bounds. I felt that the quilt would be a ribbon winner, it was perfect, but I never quilted it. By the time I was done with the top, the message to myself was loud and clear- I was ready to move away from quilts and into another creative endeavor. For six months, I worked on that quilt and I was sending myself a message. I finally heard it!
Love, love, love your First Law painting.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Beautiful painting.

I think boxes might play an important part in forcing us to use imagination. And boxes tend to shape-shift; identifying them can be the key. Maybe angst is necessary.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy, I was wondering if imagination might be one of the "magic brushes" artists are looking for and yet have locked inside their head. It's interesting to know that you were a dreamer too. I do enjoy looking at the paintings in this series.

Stan Kurth said...

When I'm doing my best work it's almost as though I were in a trance where the boundaries and restraints upon my imagination are let go and I can see.

Unknown said...

Hi LW - I'm glad to know that the child is still alive!! Vive l'enfant!

Hi Dan - it's so great that you recognized and responded to your need to imagine and create! I've heard many sad stories from people who never took the opportunity and regretted it at the end of their lives. And, I like the way you describe your transformation. Saul becoming Paul. (Second is good, too!)

Hi Carol - thank you! Your paintings blow my mind, too :-)

Hi Pam - what a great story!! You've had a real awakening and it's been great following your journey. I haven't posted as often because my husband is on a very long road to recovery from surgery and there've been some setbacks. Also, we're selling our home and moving and there's a lot to attend to. However, I do post when I can.

Hi Hallie - that's a great perspective. I hadn't thought about it that way. I suppose everything has a purpose and without the struggle we're not as productive or rewarded. Thanks!

Hi Peggy - the analogy is a good one: imagination = paintbrush. It IS a tool and probably the best paintbrush in the whole set. Thanks!!

Hi Stan - beautifully stated!

M said...

- keeps us sane
- alleviates boredom
- expands our world
- produces varied solutions
- moves us forward
etc..... Mine is in tact big time.

Robin said...

I am a late bloomer, I was an obedient child, young adult, and wife. I am just now tapping into my imagination "outside" the box, a constant battle with self doubt, yet very liberating at the same time. Your "laws of nature" series is the epitome of imagination to me. Now, mid-life, I am having fun.

-Don said...

I've lived inside my imagination all my life. Imagination was my escape and my shelter. When I wasn't drawing or wandering in the woods I was devouring books and was even called 'Bookworm' for it. My grandmother used to get the biggest kick out of observations I'd make and things I'd say. She loved my imagination. My strict, ultra-conservative, uber-religious parents did not. They appreciated my drawing skills and always encouraged that, but were not equipped to handle thinking that wasn't in line with their own. My questions and observations were often met with dismay and discipline. So, I would say that your list of reasons we underutilize our imaginations were forced upon me - not chosen.

Then, they allowed me to go off to a liberal arts college... How ironic is that?

I love irony.


layers said...

For me, I think my biggest block to imagination is my inhibitions-- even when I have a glass of wine I never can seem to lose my inhibitions :-).
I am always telling myself-- get some guts! get some courage! go for it! and then the inhibitions creep back in..

Celeste Bergin said...

Well, I was always a conventional person..there are many reasons for that, I suspect--but much of my conventionality was just there. I was a young adult during the hippie days, but I preferred a blue blazer! Always the business person. Kind of funny! So I reigned in my imagination quite alot and still the subject matter of my paintings are "traditional". Despite all this, I do think I have a wonderful imagination and it shows up best in my night-time dreams. One day I may paint from those dreams--(I used to record them religiously) they are brilliantly wacky.

Celeste Bergin said...

p.s. I love the painting in this post. Many of your paintings make me want to say "Cinema"...must be the gorgeous reel shapes.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - indeed!

Hi Robin - one of the great things about aging is losing inhibitions and having fun. Go for it!!

Hi Don - your story is rich in irony! Unintended consequences are always interesting, and I'm glad you path led you into the arts big time!!

Hi Donna - I know what you mean and decided to look to my 84-year-old artist mentor who is "far out" and doesn't care what anyone else thinks. She's not rude, just liberated!

Hi Celeste - oh, I'd love to see the interpretations of your dreams in paint!! Do them. Thanks for noting the reels in my paintings. I often have the same feeling about them.

Casey Klahn said...

As a childhood daydreamer, I must have an imagination @ here somewhere. I am just drawing a blank about the subject. I will say that you, Kathy, have succeeded in putting the word "imagine" on my radar for artistic traits.

I don't know if this is the first posting of your artwork shown, but I am in wonder over it. What fantastic work.

Mark Sheeky said...

There are limits concerning what works and what doesn't... so just imaginiation isn't a guide to original art. That said, imagination does need practise and perhaps mental eccentricity... The most imaginitive person I know is paranoid schizophrenic. I was watching television upside down last night while rhyming every sentence in my head. Doing this for fun, it's said can boost the trails inside the brain, the ones that keep us quite insane. Oops I'm doing it a-gain. The clocks are on tick tock. I'm gone (poof!)

Ah yes, creativity can be worked on. I feel a blog post coming on. Now I'm really really gone.

Unknown said...

Hi Casey - thank you! I've posted this painting before and have had little time to paint lately since my husband is ill and we're moving at the same time!! So, I'm short on new work. However, I'm beginning to paint a little more each day and hope to have something new soon.

Hi Mark - you've definitely turned imagination into an artform. You think in so many different directions and find meaning at the intersections!