Friday, June 26, 2009

The Death of Imagination

As a little kid, pretty much everyone is full of imagination. You spend your days drawing pictures of things you've never seen, pretending to travel to places you've never been, inventing histories that never happened, and acting like people you are not. Somehow, though, while we're being indoctrinated in schools, learning facts and figures (because grown-ups are so interested in figures), we neglect that part of our brains, and so, most adults possess a dormant imagination.

I am currently reading The Element, a book by Ken Robinson, and one that got me thinking about this imagination business. I suppose I have also been influenced by other recent readings: Andy and I have been reading childrens' books lately, including Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, the Little Prince (et Le Petit Prince), and Alice in Wonderland (as the previous post might suggest). It is a theme in every one of these, this desire to remain childlike and to live a life of imagination. In the Roald Dahl books in particular, the adults take on a villanous characteristic, always asserting that the children are stupid and somewhat worthless. All this because they live in their own worlds, make up their own rules, and create their own existence . . .

It's difficult to imagine anything anymore, even though I know that the number of experiences I have had is completely dwarfed in relation to those that could be imagined. It's difficult to draw on those resources and try to write a fictional story, even though I used to crank those out like nobody's business when I was in elementary school. I used to be able to draw things with some degree of success without looking at a picture to help me, and now my artistic talents have settled at "symbolic cartoon" level.

It seems, also, to be the common consensus that pretty much every idea has already been thought of. We're so used to it. TV series get to be so similar that you can lose track of which one you're watching. Movies now come from books, or as sequels (or prequels) to other movies. (It's becoming rarer and rarer to see a movie that came from nothing else before it.) Books come in series, so authors don't have to go to the trouble of inventing new characters each time they sit down to write. Even in music, we stifle creativity so that we can be "correct" or "tasteful."

I tried to draw a sketch today, just to see if I still had it in me. I drew my preliminary outline, and got mad at it because it didn't look right. Where has my imagination gone? Maybe that's why it's fled--imagining means taking risks, and taking risks means that from time to time, you will be wrong.

Creativity surprises me. To think, J.K. Rowling made up this whole bit about wizard schools and Quidditch (I hate Quidditch) and Muggles! How fascinating that Christopher Guest is Harlon Pepper, the Six-Fingered Man, Corky St. Clair, and one of the Folksmen! Yet, as children, it is our default mode to be inventing stories and characters. How sad that so many of us lose it!


  1. As I read the first paragraph of this post I thought, "She must be reading The Little Prince. I'm glad to know that I was right. Yes, the whole imagination thing is sad to lose, though I must admit I was never very good at writing stories or drawing pictures, though I sure had a very active imagination when it came to play-time!

  2. So when I was in elementary school, I skipped fourth grade thinking all I missed was the astronomy unit. But I just realized, looking back, that I missed a HUGE fundamental transition there that I think left me scarred for life: in third grade we played make believe games on the playground (the adventures of Kate, Mimi, Liz, and Harry the Lion from Mt. Vesuvius to the Mouse Hole), and in fifth grade . . . nothing. No make believe. Everyone just talked about their sprouting armpit hair and did nothing on the playground but swing.