Imagination on a Saturday Morning in March

Are we completely losing our ability to imagine and create?

Several times over the past year or so something has triggered a similar question.  Most of those triggers have been about ‘re-imaginings’.  The term has little to do with imagination and a lot to do with ‘re” as defined by Learn That Word “again, back, backward”.  We see it in movies, classic literature, and even books of the Torah.

My question really is why do we have to re-imagine anything?  What happened to straightforward individual imagination?

I’m not alone in this questioning.  There are teachers working to add activities into the school day to encourage imagination and creativity in their students and Pittsburgh is adding Art into the standard learning curriculum as STEAM rather than STEM.  I advocated this approach in a blog post in September 2014

The benefits of arts education have been studied and proven many times and yet we are focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and we seem intent on dropping the arts out of the education equation.  Some posit a change to the acronym from STEM to STEAM because of how participating in arts education impacts overall learning.   A 2013 Washington Times article describes ten skills that are enhanced by arts education.  The highlighted skills are creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, non-verbal communication, receiving constructive feedback, collaboration, dedication, and accountability.  The article states ways in which each of these skills provides groundwork for success in future careers – even if their careers are not arts-related.

Ask any business manager worth their salt if they want a workforce that can solve problems, provide innovative solutions to business challenges, receive constructive performance evaluations positively, work effectively as part of a team, not ‘pass-the-buck’ when they make mistakes, are dedicated and focused and don’t quit at the first obstacle in a project and what do you think would be their response?

As I read others’ views on imagination stagnation (don’t know if anyone else has called it that) I often think about how different my life would have been without the ability to use my imagination.  Some people will say I’m just a sentimental ‘old fart’. Regardless I can think of many ways my imagination helped me, and my siblings, pass some very difficult childhood years.

We watched TV.  But we were limited to the amount of time we were allowed to do so.  Often we took those TV characters and ‘played their parts’ in our backyard productions.  No costumes.  No sets.  Just our imagination and expansion of our plots on the fly.  We also read.  Reading stimulates imagination from words creating visions of characters and places.   If illustrations didn’t accompany the texts I doubt if we’d all see Sherlock Holmes or Watson the same way in our minds.

We were encouraged to play outdoors  which I believe played a part in developing our ability to imagine.  Outside with our friends and family we gathered experiences that we wouldn’t have encountered inside.  For me, imagination is enhanced by life experiences – as our horizons expand the possibilities do as well.  So those hours bicycling with friends, playing out TV characters, roller skating on the driveways in the neighborhood, or simply walking and talking as we popped tar bubbles with our toes in the hot asphalt and gravel road were the foundations of experiences to expand our imagination skills.

I’ll further date myself by saying that one of the creative endeavors we had was making new ‘clothes’ for our paper dolls.  We had a toys but never in excess.  Our paper dolls came with a limited wardrobe so when we wanted something new for them we made them ourselves.  We would put the original outfit under a piece of notebook paper on a window and trace the outline – tabs and all.  Then we’d add the colors and patterns we wanted with crayons.

Perhaps the change in our ability to imagine has effects beyond creativity.  Is it possible that as our imaginations are stunted we are unable to imagine a world different from what we’ve become accustomed to?  Could it be that, for instance, the backlash against childhood vaccinations stems in part from being unable to imagine a disease that could kill millions of children.

How much time do we spend searching out inspiration and letting imagination take over our thoughts?  Try adding a little dreaming or make-believe to your days and perhaps together we can collectively create a new world where original thinking is valued and imagination is admired.

Perhaps this is a good place to begin for inspiration – “Imagine” by John Lennon.

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