I have been thinking about “creativity” and “the imagination” recently, obsessing over it. This has not come out of the blue. I am teaching a class at Capital University, Columbus, OH, next Spring where that will be the subject. Oh, I know what I want to do (how great will it be when the students see Crocket Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon on the syllabus!). But thinking daily and deeply on good old Harold and his Crayon has… well startled me a bit.
You see, Harold makes a choice, decides to go on a walk at night… and from that point on, we are pushed along with each of Harold’s desires, wants – of which Harold fulfills with his trusty purple crayon. How marvelous! What a life lesson! With a will to do something (go on a walk at night) and an imagination (Harold’s God-given instrument) and a simple tool (the purple crayon), good ole Harold transforms the world around him.
I would imagine most of us who aren’t going to teach about creativity or write books or paint or sing or act or sculpt (did I leave anything out… sorry) – most of us get up every morning and never really consider the imagination because it is to the human as essential as breathing. It’s like grabbing ones coffee cup and actually stopping and marveling at how my brain and hand actually did this. Let’s take this “wow! that’s so cool” moment together.
With every problem we see in our daily world, we instinctively begin to “imagine” a way to solve it. I want breakfast – I see breakfast in my imagination. I want to dress for work – I see an array of clothing choices in my imagination. I drive to work thinking about the day – I imagine all the unfolding scenarios like a movie. It is really… astonishing. There is this incredible space between: I think about breakfast, but I must physically act to make it real. I think about what I may wear, but unless I act, I’ll still be in my pajamas. I may imagine all the outcomes from my work review – but unless I actually go to the encounter – unless I act in physical time/space – I won’t ever know.
Ah, but it gets even more complicated, doesn’t it? Because on my way to work, I imagine the review scheduled with The Boss. And now I imagine all sorts of outcomes (like a raise or company accolades, or a final showdown with the boss)… good ones, bad ones… none of them real, none of them true or actually anchored in actual time/space, all with potential outcomes. That in itself is profound! Some of us are built to be optimistic – using our imaginations to hope and dream and feel better. Some of us are built to be pessimists/realists – using our imaginations to prepare for the worst, the other shoe that is bound to drop, the imagined outcome of doom hiding behind the corner. Again, neither of these are real, all just potential: joy or doom. And the imagination is so powerful that many of us find ourselves trapped in it, living out fictitious scenarios as if they actually did happen. This is why art is so powerful. It taps into these realms, plays around in them, then shoves the participant out of the funhouse to deal with the real.
Imagination allows me to “see” potential futures and prepare for the outcomes. Man, now we’re getting into science fiction – like Frank Herbert’s Paul Atreides’ super ability of prescience. But it’s not fiction. We all, every day, each moment, this very moment have the ability to solve the problem presented to us…. to imagine futures and outcomes… and create solutions… and by doing so become…
Harold with his purple crayon.