A Cultural Perspective: A closer look at the art of imagination

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I am a perfectionist. Much as it has benefits, it also has its drawbacks. I also have quite an imagination but not of the creative kind. I paint what I see, not what I imagine.

This summer, I have been giving free demos and workshops during my days at Artistic Visions summer art market located at the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Information Centre on Northwest Boulevard. I have given three demos in various mediums and have been awed by the results produced by the children and adults who have participated. Perhaps one of the problems with my artistic expression is perfectionism. Bob Ross, the oil painter, has said, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.” I, until recently, did not share that view (especially when it came to my own work).

Imagination makes the world go around. It is the vision someone has of the future that pushes them to go beyond the limits of ordinary thinking; an idea that they can’t let go of — a dream they want to turn into reality. They imagine the possibilities and set about making it come into existence. I believe that is how we have arrived at the place we find ourselves now as a species.

The telephone, the light bulb, indoor plumbing, space exploration, flight and art are all a by-product of someone’s imagination.

When man first began making his mark on the world, he only recreated what he saw; our capacity for imagining what could be, had not been developed yet. We only thought about what was. As we began to be able to think “What if?”, we began to use the strength or power of imagination to create all manner of things for the advancement and enhancement of ourselves and our lives. The world around us has become what it is today because of the imagination that turned dreams, wishes and ideas into reality. Where would we be really without the imagination of the Wright brothers, Einstein, da Vinci and others?

What we would we do without fiction? Sure, non-fiction can be interesting and exciting (as a student of anthropology and history, I can attest to that), but the imagination of some becomes the enjoyment and escapism of others. I love Ray Bradbury, Stephen King and Robert Ludlum, to name a few. Their imaginations have given me hours of enjoyment, changed the way I think about some things and made me sleep with the lights on (just last month).

How dull life would be without imagination — all of us thinking the same, doing the same, being the same. In T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, we would be like the ants that Arthur spends some time with, just mindlessly going through the day, with no wants or desires as we’d have no imagination to fuel them. Maybe that’s what really separates us from “animals”.

When I first started to paint with my granddaughter, Betty, we had endless arguments about what was being painted. I’d tell her, “You can’t use that colour!” and she would ask, “Why?” I’d tell her it wasn’t supposed to be that colour and she would ask, “Why?” To my surprise, I really had no answer for that question except, “That’s just the way it’s supposed to be.” Strangely enough, that did not satisfy her four-year-old mind and she began an endless litany of, “I can make it whatever I want.” Can you imagine that?

I was telling this story to my son and he said, “Mom, she’s just using her imagination. What’s wrong with that?” I realized then that even as an artist (save the medium I paint on, which is stone) I was stuck in a box that limited me and suppressed my imagination. I have been struggling to change that ever since.

The art of imagination is no small thing. It has become the focus for me personally in the hope that the more I’m willing to let go of what should be and consider what could be, the more I’ll be able to grow as an artist and as a person.

On Friday, I’m giving a free workshop at the chamber of commerce from 1-2:30 p.m. on having fun with watercolours for kids as well as adults. There is room for 10 people, and all the materials are supplied.

Albert Einstein once said, “Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” If that’s the case, I’m looking forward to the main feature.

Lori Wikdahl is a Creston Valley artist.