What if?

The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Imagination vs. Critical Spirit is the theme for July over at the BeZine.  I’ve been pondering these words and what they mean. When I first read the above quote, every creative cell in my body yelled, “Nope!”. I decided to live with the idea for a little while, to make sure that I wasn’t just reacting out of instinct to protect my own view of “Imagination”. It continued to bother me, so I did what I always do in cases where I’m having a problem with Art: I consulted my own, resident expert, my mother. She has been an artist longer than I have been alive.

It was no surprise that we were both reminded of another saying, “Nothing new under the sun”, which comes from Bible scripture in Ecclesiastes 1:9 — “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Image borrowed from 67notout.com

Image borrowed from 67notout.com

If one takes the view that God is the only true, original creator, then yes, of course  anything we create is going to pale in comparison and be just imitation. But we’re also told that we are made in His image, so we humans are not only copies, we’re creators, too!

Regarding Imagination vs. Critical Spirit, the thing to remember is that both are subjective. Each one of us has a different “version” of both imagination and critical spirit. So our truths about what constitutes each one are subjective, too.

It not only depends on your definition of “Imagination”, but also depends on how you define the two words “Critical Spirit”. Most people hear or read the word “critical” with a negative connotation, but I don’t think Mr. Wilde meant it in that way. I think he meant that internal editor/analyzer who is judicious of what is created in an attempt to make it better.  Others might believe that the words refer to that divine spark inside all of us that strives to attain divine perfection in whatever we create (which is perhaps when the focus is more on the word “spirit” than “critical”).

Wilde’s quote comes across as reductionist to me, while I prefer a more gestalt point of view.  I can’t help but be a little defensive of the imagination, because it seems that he favors the “critical spirit” and labels the imagination a mere imitator. In my opinion, BOTH are equally necessary and important for creative art.  Something my mom mentioned in our discussion stood out to me as a good way to describe it.

Daisy painting by Delmus Phelps from easy-oil-painting-techniques.org

Daisy painting by Delmus Phelps from easy-oil-painting-techniques.org

She said, “A realistic painting of a yellow and white daisy is an imitation of nature, with little creativity, but rather skill mastery.

A painting of a daisy with a rainbow of colored petals, would be an imitation of the natural shape, but would also employ the critical spirit through imagination and be more creative. It would ask the question: What if?”

Rain-over-a-rainbow-flower from wallpapermania.eu

Image borrowed from wallpapermania.eu

I think this is a good explanation, because that “what if” is the very essence of the critical spirit, the voice inside that analyzes and asks how the creator can make it different, better.

However, the imagination has to dream that it’s possible, first.  In that sense, I disagree that the imagination is a mere imitator. I think of it as more of an instigator, a jumping off point from which countless “what ifs” are possible.

In closing, I’d like to offer a different quote about imagination:

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

About dragonkatet

Regarding the blog name, Dragon’s Dreams ~ The name comes from my love-affairs with both Dragons and Dreams (capital Ds). It’s another extension of who I am, a facet for expression; a place and way to reach other like-minded, creative individuals. I post poetry and images that fascinate or move me, because that’s my favorite way to view the world. I post about things important to me and the world in which we live, try to champion extra important political, societal and environmental issues, etc. Sometimes I wax philosophical, because it’s also a place where I always seem to learn about myself, too, by interacting with some of the brightest minds, souls and hearts out there. It’s all about ‘connection(s)’ and I don’t mean “net-working” with people for personal gain, but rather, the expansion of the 4 L’s: Light, Love, Laughter, Learning.
This entry was posted in Art, Creativity, Inspiration, Philosophical Ponderings, Uncategorized, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to What if?

  1. Jo Bryant says:

    Interesting path you wandered on with this one.

    • dragonkatet says:

      Thanks, Jo. I know that as an athiest, the whole “God” part of this post is something you won’t agree with. I was raised Christian, so in speaking with my mom, I think it was natural that our discussion evoked that kind of thinking. While I was raised Christian, these days, I tend to identify as more of a combination of Taoist and Deist (I realize that sounds contradictory, and perhaps it is, but that is the simplest way to describe it). But I am curious about your thoughts regarding imagination vs. critical spirit. I know you are very creative! What do you think? 🙂

      • Jo Bryant says:

        I guess I would first have to define what I think is critical spirit. I know that when I write I am editing. I am eternally critical, but I don’t think of that as a bad thing. It is a drive for betterment. Imagination I think is the beginning…the idea…the story…the dream we have at 2am in the morning…whereas critical spirit is the crafting of that dream in to something that makes us feel satisfaction. It’s the result of imagination that is refined in to a framework that tells the story…does that make sense ????

      • dragonkatet says:

        It makes total sense to me. 🙂 Thanks for your feedback. I think we can both agree that BOTH imagination and critical spirit are necessary for a successful (in all senses of that word) piece of art.

  2. eebrinker says:

    oh in the term “rhetorical critic, “… the ‘critic’ part is more a convincer, rather than how we see critic as one who judges or puts down. critical might also mean necessary. or critical as on the edge of something. a person is only creative when the are on the cliff, on the brink, on edge. when at that point where creation is a necessity for the spirit to survive. so rather than imagination, he is saying it is that NEED to create which is the real fount, not necessarily the ABILITY to create. imagination in the past has always been tied to invention. not so much in the arts as in creative accomplishment. so he’s basically saying that necessity is the mother of invention. otherwise, if want to define ‘critical’ modern terms…. it’s more poetic. which is kind of cool that a phrase can become more poetic over time due to changes in word usage. but in the sense of a perfectionist being more creative than a day dreamer…. it is the battle of pragmatism versus flamboyance? and of course, the answer is that you need them both.

  3. eebrinker says:

    but yea he meant critical as in on edge or in need….. was saying that desperation is the greater producer of creativity than concept.

  4. eebrinker says:

    or he meant critical as in you must have a creative spirit in order to create, rather than child like whimsy. i doubt very much that the intended meaning was critical as in judgmental. critical as in specific, also. so you would need the specific spirit for that specific creation.

    • dragonkatet says:

      Thanks for all the thoughtful replies, E! 🙂 I found it to be an interesting and thought-provoking challenge which made me reexamine my own beliefs about creativity and imagination. It has been insightful, to say the least, how different people interpret Wilde’s phrasing. While it can be frustrating, I think the fact that our language (words) can mean so many different things to different people can be enlightening, too.

      • eebrinker says:

        yes mostly i was saying it’s the time factor in language. critical more often than not now means to criticize. we developed the saying, “you’re too critical!” but i don’t think that’s the proper use of the term, and wilde did know his english 🙂

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