I often wonder if people who don’t enjoy culture or do not feel drawn to any kind of artistic endeavour, are missing out on a way of seeing the world. The poet Coleridge said of imagination – that it is the unconscious, primordial power of the soul and that knowledge is wedded to feeling. So this would indicate that for knowledge to be accurate, it must have a relationship to feeling, to emotion – even to the irrational. He also said that imagination allows us to see reality as a whole. Parts are seen as a whole through the creative imagination; art is not a skill – it is the imaginative work of the soul. Art is a certain kind of seeing – the inner eye’s fusion of the external and internal.
Freud went so far as to say that the discontent of the world is due to the lack of connection between the inner and the outer.
So what of the person making the art – singing the song, playing the instrument, writing the music/song, painting the picture, dancing the dance, writing the poem or book, or acting the character? Coleridge said that a poet can be known by how he/she makes the reader express their emotions. The artist does not know what they’re expressing until it is expressed – hence it is unconscious. Mentality cannot be strictly identified with consciousnes itself – e.g a musician is not completely aware/conscious of what or how well they’re playing. They have a mentality of it but are not 100% conscious of it.
So having said all this, we are pointed to the concept that imagination clarifies and makes aspects of life clearer; in the act of elaboration, ironically we see more clearly.
I leave you with two quotes; one from a composer of great music – Sergei Rachmaninov – who says that his need to create music is linked with his reaction to it after it is created. Both are efforts to create something good and beautiful through which the rest of life can be carried –
‘I always feel that my own music and my reactions to all music, remained spiritually the same, unendingly obedient in trying to create beauty.’
Life is lived forwards but understood backwards and we often need tools – such as the arts and imagination – to understand it. In the book ‘The Other Side of You’ by Salley Vickers, one of the characters says ‘how little of another person’s reality is visible to us. We see their form, their features, their shifts of expression, but all that constitutes their sense of self remains unseen. And yet this invisible self is what to the individual constitutes their real identity.’
Imagination is like a window which allows us to see others more clearly, as we use imagination to interpret the arts which are about people. Film and Theatre Director Rufus Norris says in relation to his film ‘Broken’ – acting is the business of humanity. The arts are more informative than we give them credit for and far more than simply fantastical.