For our seminar on Imagination we read an excerpt from Baudelaire's Salon Review, a journal entry by Delacroix, and a description of the imagination by Herbert Read. I teamed up with current students Ciara Ruddock and Kelly Miller to form a question to pose to the class during our seminar discussion. In the Baudelaire reading, he introduces a couple of concepts that we agreed needed to be revisited. One is his metaphorical use of the dictionary. He writes, "you look for the meaning of words, their genealogy and their etymology...all the elements that compose a sentence of a narrative: but no one has ever thought of his dictionary as a composition, in the poetic sense of the word." He takes these different approaches to the dictionary to describe a painter using (or not using) their imagination. He writes, "Painters who are obedient to the imagination seek in their dictionary for the elements which suit with their conception; in adjusting those elements, however, with more or less of art, they confer upon them a totally new physiognomy. But those who have no imagination just copy the dictionary." When he says "his dictionary," it becomes apparent that we're not talking about Webster's, but rather a more personal inventory.
Baudelaire also discusses the mysterious nature of imagination. He writes, "How mysterious is Imagination, that Queen of the Faculties! It touches all the others; it rouses them and sends them into combat. At times it resembles them to the point of confusion, and yet it is always itself...It is both analysis and synthesis; and yet men who are clever at analysis and sufficiently quick at summing up, can be devoid of imagination...It is sensitivity, and yet there are people who are very sensitive, too sensitive perhaps, who have none of it." Though he describes it from many angles, he never pins down exactly what Imagination is.
At this point, Ciara, Kelly, and I grasped that Imagination was very personal and mysterious. We understood the power that it could grant to an artist, but we still weren't quite sure what it was specifically. We began talking about how some people have it and others don't, and began to question how we know when someone has it or not. As if perked up by sudden insight, Ciara said, "I could have met someone who doesn't have Imagination and I wouldn't be able to tell!"
We were on to something. With a little tweaking and re-reading we had found our question: "How do you measure an artist's imagination?"
So...how do you measure an artist's imagination? What do you think?
-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow