The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Imagination vs. Critical Spirit is the theme for July here at the BeZine. I’ve been pondering these words and what they mean. When I first read the above quote, every creative cell in my body yelled, “Nope!”. I decided to live with the idea for a little while, to make sure that I wasn’t just reacting out of instinct to protect my own view of “Imagination”. It continued to bother me, so I did what I always do in cases where I’m having a problem with Art: I consulted my own, resident expert, my mother. She has been an artist longer than I have been alive.

It was no surprise that we were both reminded of another saying, “Nothing new under the sun”, which comes from Bible scripture in Ecclesiastes 1:9 — “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

Image borrowed from 67notout.com
Image borrowed from 67notout.com

If one takes the view that God is the only true, original creator, then yes, of course anything we create is going to pale in comparison and be just imitation. But we’re also told that we are made in His image, so we humans are not only copies, we’re creators, too!

Regarding Imagination vs. Critical Spirit, the thing to remember is that both are subjective. Each one of us has a different “version” of both imagination and critical spirit. So our truths about what constitutes each one are subjective, too.

It not only depends on your definition of “Imagination”, but also depends on how you define the two words “Critical Spirit”. Most people hear or read the word “critical” with a negative connotation, but I don’t think Mr. Wilde meant it in that way. I think he meant that internal editor/analyzer who is judicious of what is created in an attempt to make it better. Others might believe that the words refer to that divine spark inside all of us that strives to attain divine perfection in whatever we create (which is perhaps when the focus is more on the word “spirit” than “critical”).

Wilde’s quote comes across as reductionist to me, while I prefer a more gestalt point of view. I can’t help but be a little defensive of the imagination, because it seems that he favors the “critical spirit” and labels the imagination a mere imitator. In my opinion, BOTH are equally necessary and important for creative art. Something my mom mentioned in our discussion stood out to me as a good way to describe it.

Daisy painting by Delmus Phelps from easy-oil-painting-techniques.org
Daisy painting by Delmus Phelps from easy-oil-painting-techniques.org

She said, “A realistic painting of a yellow and white daisy is an imitation of nature, with little creativity, but rather skill mastery.

A painting of a daisy with a rainbow of colored petals, would be an imitation of the natural shape, but would also employ the critical spirit through imagination and be more creative. It would ask the question: What if?”

Rain-over-a-rainbow-flower from wallpapermania.eu
Image borrowed from wallpapermania.eu

I think this is a good explanation, because that “what if” is the very essence of the critical spirit, the voice inside that analyzes and asks how the creator can make it different, better.

However, the imagination has to dream that it’s possible, first. In that sense, I disagree that the imagination is a mere imitator. I think of it as more of an instigator, a jumping off point from which countless “what ifs” are possible.

In closing, I’d like to offer a different quote about imagination:

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

– Corina Ravenscraft

© 2015, essay, Corina Ravenscraft, All rights reserved; illustrations as credited above

3 thoughts on “What if?

  1. To me, the critical spirit often sparks the imagination. Sometimes it’s the other way around, too. Of course, I tend toward the philosophical and this shows up in my writing—maybe less so in my visual art or music. Still, I think they are intimately tied together. It could be, pardon the simile, like sperm and egg. You can’t naturally create a human without both.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “What if?” is a great example of that exploring conscious with which we are gifted. And BGS’s words outline the activity of the ego – the volitional bringing into being that which our conscious has explored and desired. But when does ego escalate to hubris? (Ah, another element of the artistic arena!) 🙂 Discuss —

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