Imagination: The Artist's Best Friend and Worst Enemy

Artists are known for their awesome imaginations. Webster's defines Imagination as "The ability to imagine things that are not real: the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced. The ability to think of new things. Something that only exists or happens in your mind." Makes sense since artists are tasked with creating new things that haven't existed before.

When artists describe their artistic visions it's so vivid and complete. It's as if they were recalling an experienced memory. While a good imagination gives artists their superpowers it can also be their major downfall. As vividly as the artist can construct the artwork in their mind they can also as vividly construct a negative reality. They can picture the bad critique, the failed mediums, and wasted time. Sometimes this negative side can help them solve problems ahead of time but other times it's self destructive.

To learn how to avoid negative imagination let's first identify the different types.

Psychologists have 8 categories for imagination:

  1. Effectuative imagination: Is sort of like "higher order processing" because when you're engaging this type of imagination several disparate ideas merge together into something new.
  2. Intellectual imagination: This type of imagination is very deliberate and scientific. In this one you take lots of different pieces of data, analyze them, and reorganize them to come up with a new solution to a problem.
  3. Imaginative fantasy: This type of imagination is similar to effectuative imagination but produces less abstract results. Similar to how we use fantasy to describe movies, books or paintings; this type of imagination keeps one foot in reality and the other in a completely unreal one. 
  4. Empathy: This one is as we know it to be; it's our ability to place ourselves in someone else's shoes and feel what they feel.
  5. Strategic imagination: This imagination is about seeing opportunities and walking through scenarios. 
  6. Emotional imagination: This is the root of our feelings. We can't have the feeling of fear without being able to imagine something dangerous.
  7. Dreams: As we know it to be; it's unconscious imagination.
  8. Memory: Again, as you know it to be; this imagination is recalling previous people places and things.

For myself as an artist I think I utilize Effectuative the most. As an art educator I use Intellectual and Empathy. 

I think Emotional, and Memory kill my confidence as an artist the most. Strategic can be damaging too in that I think I can envision several different outcomes to an opportunity and will choose to elaborate on the one I like the best, instead of the one that is most realistic. I think as with anything when we know our strengths and weaknesses we can more appropriate steer ourselves towards our desired paths.