Imagination Come of Age

The imagination which creates is not the same imagination which enjoys the creation. The imagination—to exaggerate the distinction for observation—of Peter Jackson and those who work for him is exercised it seems to me to a great degree. But the imagination of those who watch? Not so much. There is imagination going on, but only (or at most, mostly) on the side of creation. In reading it is a bit more even, but the writer’s imagination is of a different sort to the reader’s, it seems to me. The imagination of Tolkien worked greatly, but the imagination of those who are led by his words through the story is not exercised the same way—see all the imitations: none really add up, do they? So what I wonder is whether we can call the imagination which creates imagination which has come of age.

Art has to work on our imagination if it works by way of suggestion. It suggests more than is there. One doesn’t walk away from a book feeling awed at the arrangement of words on a page, remembering the font and size of the page, usually. When the book is well made as an object itself, these things become invisible to the avid reader who turns pages but retains no memory of having done so. Not to say these things are unimportant, but when you read a book that is really good, you remember the story—you have lived through an experience suggested to you by letters on a page. Music has the same quality: we have to participate in the sounds we’re hearing. Somehow these noises suggest to us all the things we talk about when we talk about music. The best paintings don’t merely depict, they suggest much more than they depict and when photography aspires to art it has to move beyond what the machine, the camera itself, can do. And so on. Learning to appreciate is learning to respond correctly to these suggestions and more, learning to follow these suggestions not only with a trained imagination, but a strong and free imagination.

The imagination that creates has to be of the strong and free variety: it must be to begin with. And so while it is not the imagination that first appreciates, I think it has to be, in conclusion, the same imagination that has moved beyond early training and appreciation into possession and understanding of the ways of art. It is imagination, one might say, that has come of age.


One thought on “Imagination Come of Age

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a bit and I like the idea. It seems true to me.

    By way of extending this idea, I note that prudent readers instinctively look for writers whose mature or maturing imagination exceeds our own, otherwise the reading adds nothing to us. But not by too much, or we would be unable to respond imaginatively. I know people of many virtues who are unable to mentally integrate anything of which they do not have immediate experience. The Lord of the Rings is far, far, beyond them – they see it as just another story about war and bloodshed.

    One consequence of this situation, perhaps, is that everything we read (unless we freuqently go slumming just to encourage ourselves) will be created by skills currently beyond our own. This simple fact, unless we keep the cause in mind (our intolerance for lesser work) can create a false impression of our own potentialities, casting a shadow of eternal ineptitude and inferiority over them.

    I remember someone said that one purpose of education is to take the measure of our capabilities and thus find our true place among our peers. The system isn’t perfect because in academic settings stress frquently impedes an otherwise bright and agile mind because of its sensitivity. Nevertheless, when one is self-teaching, this experience of “taking one’s measure” is almost entirely absent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s