Training the imagination

It is the imagination that makes an artist capable of going beyond anything he or she has learned about the craft and from others in the field. It’s the imagination that makes the artist create something new in his or her own work; a new idea, a new approach, a new point of view, a new effect, a personal style. A person may read all the right books on the craft, attend lectures, go to school, and yet still not be able to do anything but copy from what he or she has learn. But we all have imagination and creativity latent in ourselves and it’s possible for all to bring out and develop that potential.

A good way to train one’s imaginative faculties is through mental exercises: try to imagine different ways of doing the same thing, different ways of rendering the same subject, different applications of means and technique. When confronted with an artistic problem we may try to visualize how the subject would appear from a different point of view – for instance in photography from higher up, from lower down, from the side, from the rear. Or how would it appear if the subject would be taken farther away with a telephoto lens? What would happen if a wide-angel lens were used? What about a different type of illumination?

By investigating systematically every controllable factor which contributes to the appearance of the work of art, by patiently searching for other ways than the obvious one for solving a specific problem, by critically analyzing the result of these investigations, by making clever use of the possibilities inherent in the subject, the inventive artist creates the kind of work that makes less patient or less creative artists exclaim: Why didn’t I think of that? How could I overlook such possibilities! Haven’t we all experienced this feeling at some point? But don’t worry, though, don’t get discourage by other’s creative work, it’s all about training your imagination.

Another way to do so is exactly to study and analyse the work of other imaginative artists, much as the student artist learns by studying the work of the masters. I believe there is no artist who, in one way or another, has not been influenced by the thought and work by others. Such influences are necessary catalysts to the artistic growth and development of any creative personality. We are not talking about imitation, but influence.

How do you train your imagination? And keep it sharp every day?

68 thoughts on “Training the imagination

  1. I think anyone can create unique things if he or she won’t be afraid of being him/herself. In my opinion, acting from inside is the only way to create. Anyone is special that’s why being yourself and doing something means to make unique things.

    I don’t train my imagination intentionally. I just talk with people, observe and think a lot. It’s in my nature.

        1. Among other things, I try to expand my vision by listening to music I might not like by first listening, looking at art I find challenging, reading books that don’t necessarily would be my regular pick, and so on. It’s all about trying to not stall and degrade.

  2. I was born with a lot of imagination. It helps me to come up with solutions, it makes me creative. I think it’s in the genes because I see this also with my mother, brothers and sisters.

    1. I have debate with myself whether the imagination is inherited or a result of stimulation from the environment. I still can’t make up my mind but tend to go for the latter. It gives hope for everyone who wants to train the imagination. The more I read about the plasticity of the brain the more I understand the potential for changing the brain activities.

      1. I think you are right. You can be born with it, but you also have to maintain it. What you don’t have naturally , you can often stimulate and still develop, also the creativity.

  3. I’ve always believed that any of the arts can spark one’s imagination. Or even everyday life has its moments where we can see differently. Mostly, we must be open to the possibilities. As usual, sound advice from you.

  4. I think we are born with a certain amount of imagination. As an elementary substitute teacher I see some young kids just have more inherent imagination than others. I am not sure about myself … ideas just come to me!

  5. Posture. Stress free observation (Alexander and Laban movement). As Shminke notes with acting on perception, stress is the limiting factor.

  6. The new photography/art pieces I have been doing were totally born from imagination. I Love looking through art galleries at all the new things painters, or mixed media artists create. It was an amalgam of ideas that helped me create what I’m doing.

  7. I’ve learned that playing with a subject is as important as studying it. Also: if free-range chickens and children are good, surely it can’t hurt to let our minds roam more freely. Question like “Why?” and “What if…?” help that process along.

  8. Yes, I think that comparison can sometimes inspire new ideas but mostly it has to come from within. From being true to ourselves and not being afraid to venture from the ordinary and the usual.

  9. Wonderful post, Otto. Always something to think about. 🙂

    I use my height to help with my imagination. I’m short so I find myself often getting lower to the ground, even lying on the ground, when I have time to play around. Lately, I’ve been looking up a lot (at very tall things) and I’ve been known to bring a step ladder along to help me look at things from a higher perspective.

    1. If you are able to use your own strengths to find new ways to see the world and encourage the imagination, I think that is one of the best approaches. The result will be unique to your creativity.

  10. “Another way to do so is exactly to study and analyse the work of other imaginative artists, much as the student artist learns by studying the work of the masters”.

    I agree Otto. To this day, I browse other photographer’s web sites and analyse what I like (or dislike) about their work. How do they achieve that ability to make the image come alive and draw the eye in. I suspect some photographers are just great photo editors, but looking at the early 20th C black and white photographers gives me more inspiration and ideas on what makes a good photo.

    Every time a fellow blogger mentions a great Photographer, I write the name down so I can browse Google Images (or their website if they’re a living artist) at a later date. Every now and then, I do a Google search on the top 10 photographers in particular genres and then quickly check each name and their images and find the styles I like. Then I analyse why I like their work.

    But using the creative right side of the brain takes practice and letting go of the natural instinct many of us use in the left side of the brain. The left side logic and mathematics of everyday life needs to be shifted more to the right side. I genuinely believe some of us are born with a natural creativity, but we can also learn to ‘think outside the box’ and expand our imagination. It does take practice.

    Even though I can’t get outdoors walking around at the moment, I still take photos every day and give thought to the light or cloud cover that hits my balcony. At dusk each night I go outside and try to imagine how ‘much’ light there is and what it might create.

    I’m lucky enough to have had an art/design background in my education 45 years ago, but it’s still browsing current websites (as opposed to books which I can’t afford) that inspire and teach.

    1. Internet does offer a vast possibilities of inspiration and information, doesn’t it. However, I am impressed by your methodological approach to keep staying informed and seeking new inspiration. There is a lot everybody can learn from this approach. Talking about right and left brain, new science shows that there isn’t such a clear division between the two halves as earlier believed, but what you write is nevertheless very relevant even if the the idea of right and left brain has become more figuratively. One more thing: It does indeed take a great editor to become a great photographer.

  11. i know, i know… i think my bad photography is becoming less fun, now that i have given up over processing… i might have to think of another approach… maybe composite pictures, i like them, but it feels weird to use other people’s photos and cut them up etc…

  12. You’re right on target, I think, in talking about the importance of continually thinking about different ways to see and do things. And also looking carefully at what other artists who appeal to you have done. Another exercise I think helps is finding unexpected connections and associations among things – combining things that aren’t normally thought of together. I think that helps loosen the mind and open it to new possibilities.

  13. Great post and great comments too, all of which are making me think, which is the point of all of it, right? Sometimes it’s impossible to know how we can use the things around us in a new way. Thanks for reminding us of different ways we can approach things.

  14. Hmmm…. never really thought about it before Otto…. I sometimes get really inspired by looking @ other people’s work. Then that gives me an idea💡. Other times, just by practicing a new technique, or reaching out of my comfort zone brings more insight.

  15. a person is no doubt influenced by those who share their artistic abilities. if i hadn’t seen the things i like to attempt with my own style, i would never have found my own abilities.

  16. I use two main ways of exploring my imagination: by studying the works of painters (especially from the Impressionists on) and by experimenting with a wide range of filters (plus the zoom colour inversion and rotation)during processing. Quite frequently the results are unexpected – and, often, unwanted! – but they feed the urge experiment further. Interestingly these ‘techniques’ influence how I see the world and, hence, what I choose as suitable subject matter for subsequent photos.

  17. Some of my favorites quotes are on the power of Imagination, some come to mind.

    Eisntein’s :

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    Another one it’s Ibn Arabi’s, here two of him :

    ‘Know that you yourself are an imagination. And everything that you perceive and say to yourself, ‘this is not me’, is also an imagination. So that the whole world of existence is imagination within imagination.’

    ”The organ of cognition that gains us access to this universe is the Active Imagination. … Active Imagination] is the place of theophanic visions, the scene on which visionary events and symbolic histories appear in their true reality.”

    Great post as usual Otto. 🙂

  18. Immagination is a natural instinct and can be developed through our mental capacity building.
    To be very immaginative, you must have a kind of native intelligence which in it self can only be acquired naturally

    1. The question is what you mean by naturally. If you mean only through through inheritance or genetically, I am not sure about that. As you say yourself, imagination, can be developed by training, and I think even to the most imaginative level. Thanks for the comment, John.

  19. Very interesting article, Otto. Although I’m not a photographer, I still have to use my imagination when I write. Importantly, I also have to train it not to overdo description or put too much emphasis on irrelevant things. It’s not easy, but hey, anything worthwhile rarely is.

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