Acting 101 for Singers: Day 1, Topic 9
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.” Carl Sagan
The question of where imagination and inspiration come from is the source of many good books, articles, research, and discussion. Let me summarize the majority of them. Imagination and inspiration don’t come from nowhere. I realize this isn’t the best-written phrase, but I think it best reflects what I believe most young artists subconsciously feel. Creativity, imagination, inspiration, and other related topics get discussed as an almost mystical occurrence. It’s a gift that you either have or you don’t, where you spontaneously and randomly produce creative, imaginative material. How many times have you heard a young person trying to be witty use the phrase, “I know this is random but…” or “That is so random” or some iteration of that. The reality is, it wasn’t random. Something caused that thought to occur, it didn’t just come out of the blue. They might not have been aware of the thought process happening at the time, but it had a source. Imagination always has a source. Imagination is the process of taking a source of information and extrapolating meaning and stories from that information.
The best performers have imagination in spades. Children who are free to be themselves seem to have it in abundance with little or no effort. Here are some basic strategies and tools to unlock and activate the imagination.
What is interesting is that children usually have imagination in abundance. So, is there anything to learn or just things to unlearn? Both. We need to remember and unlearn what keeps us from accessing that childlike vivid imagination, but we also have to learn what the process looks like to be intentional about going through it. Children rely on instinct and external forces to prompt imagination. As artists, we need to know how to spark it through internal intention.
Where does imagination come from?
We don’t create anything from nothing. Therefore, imagination has to come from somewhere. Too often, a young singer gets up and tries to come up with something creative and imaginative from nothing. So what is that from? The short answer is that it comes from sensory input, then choosing to observe that sensory input, and making meaning of that sensory input. In other words, make a story out of that information. Art then becomes the artifact that is the product of the creative process. For example, if you walk from the store your car but don’t take the time to observe your surroundings and make meaning from them, there isn’t a story to tell when you get home. If instead, while walking from the store to your car, you notice the old lady talking to the bag boy about her grandson and the storm clouds that are surely going to drench that old ladies newly blued hair, then you start to have the start of a story to tell when you get home. In short, sensory input is the gas that we have to have to drive the imagination car. So, you want to be more imaginative then spend more time going through this process with deliberate attention.
There is an infinite number of ways this process can play out. A large part of an artist’s journey is exploring the different ways they can go about this process and what works best for them as an individual. What can you do to start on this journey? I would suggest that you start with identifying situations and sensory stimuli that make you react strongly or make you feel deeply, and those that make you think new thoughts. Put yourself into those situations or in front of that stimuli and spend the time observing. Ask yourself as many questions as possible about what you are experiencing. Be curious! Then find ways of expressing the thoughts, feelings, emotions, questions, frustrations, and whatever else you experience to someone else in as many different ways as possible. Take the time to experience the world through your unique lens, and then find how you can share that best. If you are reading this, then most likely one of the ways you communicate best is music.
Creativity & The Young Artist
There are two scenarios that I find most common among young artists. The first is the young artist trying so hard to be creative, unique, and profound that it reads as false, disingenuous, and manufactured. The other is the artist that is so busy doing it “right” that they can’t even imagine how to access their imagination.
The problem for both kinds of artists is they don’t understand where imagination comes from. They think that it is something that comes from nowhere. Unless they are taught the process and realize that at its core, imagination and creativity are about discovering and expressing truth then they will struggle to find the artistic value they are probably craving and so will their audience.
Where does imagination go and how do I get it back
Note: Actually take time to answer the questions in this section for yourself. Don’t just blow through them without thinking about it.
Imagination doesn’t go anywhere, but it does get buried. Growing up and not letting one’s imagination get buried either takes a lot of work or a very special person. That doesn’t mean we can’t rediscover it though.
Identify what moments, experiences, or factors in your life led you to shut your imagination away? Were you hurt when you revealed yourself to someone? Were you scared of rejection? Were you so busy trying to get the “right” answer that you forgot how to explore the many possible answers? Does your imagination suffer from atrophy and disuse?
Rediscovering your imagination is a matter of freeing it from whatever is keeping it locked away. What are you afraid will happen if you let it out? How can you overcome that fear? What can you do to nurture your imagination and practice using it to build it back to its robust childlike vividness?
What can I do to nurture my imagination?
There are a lot of ways to rediscover your imagination, but here are some suggestions of things you can do right away.
- Read a story to a child in as many different voices and as much ridiculous expression as possible. If they don’t laugh, you aren’t being ridiculous enough.
- Define the moments where you learned not to use your memory. If you could go back to that moment and do it again, what would you do differently to protect your imagination? Now that you are older would you interpret that scenario in a different way that wouldn’t be so damaging to your imagination?
- Be mindful of the world around you. Take moments to observe, paying special attention to one sense at a time. Try to observe in as much detail as possible, discovering every aspect of that object, moment, or interaction. By intentionally observing without trying to judge we are giving our mind the building blocks of imagination.
- Play. Do whatever it takes to get your mind out of thinking and into doing an activity that you find energizing.
- Be still. Learn to meditate.
- Draw. Paint. Sing an improvised song. Dance.
- Give yourself permission to do something wrong or do something silly or ridiculous.
- Find a way to make a stranger smile.
- Find situations and people that make it safe for you to be authentic and vulnerable. Then start to explore what it means for you to be authentic and vulnerable.
- Keep a dream journal or write “morning pages“.