‘If you need a good idea, and you need it now, sit down with a pen and paper and make it happen.’*
This isn’t the way imagination and creativity is popularly thought of. Surely, we say, it’s impossible to conjure up inspiration whenever we want to. Hugh Macleod, whose words these are, continues:
‘Creativity is the practice of keeping an open mind – and the thing about maintaining a practice is, well, you need to keep practising.’*
Imagination is an ability we can develop with practice but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
I happened to follow these words with thoughts from Wallace Stevens on the pressure of reality and the power of imagination. For Stevens reality and imagination are equally important, they are poles of possibility. Imagination then is not some way of hiding from reality but a way of resisting it, towards bringing something new into being. Stevens is writing in the critical times following the Second World War but also contemplates the more everyday pressures:
“The pressure of reality may, of course, be less than the general pressure that I have described. It exists for individuals according to the circumstances of their lives or according to the characteristics of their minds. To sum it up, the pressure of reality is, I think, the determining factor in the artistic character of an era and, as well, the determining factor in the artistic character of an individual. The resistance to this pressure or its evasion in the case of individuals of extraordinary imagination cancels the pressure so far as those individuals are concerned.”**
When we’re sitting over the blank piece of paper we’re facing the pressure of reality. And when we allow our imagination to hover over the paper we are resisting. Indeed, we need something to resist, the last thing we want is easy, as Ryan Holliday reminds us when he writes about what the obstacle provides us with:
‘The path of least resistance is a poor teacher.’^
Happening then to read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, I find Søren Kierkgaard saying something that connects with this:
“Strangely enough, my imagination works best when I am sitting alone in a large assemblage, when the tumult and noise require a substratum of will if the imagination is to hold on to its object, without this environment it bleeds to death in the exhausting embrace of an indefinite idea.'”^^
Kierkegaard is identifying his need to feel some pressure of reality for his imagination to work towards an idea taking shape.
For a moment there’s a piece of paper and we’re holding the pen. In the moment of silence we feel the resistance but then something emerges.
Everything we are and have comes into our imagining. There is the Self we know, the talents we possess, the knowledge we have gathered, the passion we possess. When these begin to flow then the paper yields to the many things we want to write and draw upon it. (I’ve intimated how these thoughts followed on from one to another simply in the things I happened to read this morning; funny thing, that.)
We must trust the flow, towards some new thing:
‘”Flow” is the way people describe their state of mind webern consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.’*^
I have hinted that
(*From gapingvoid’s Chase Down Your Dreams.)
(**Wallace Stevens, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings: Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and Our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the News.)
(^From Ryan Holliday’s The Obstacle is the Way.)
(^^Søren Kierkegaard, quoted in Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust.)
(*^From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.)