There’s a massive elephant in the room. Do you see it? No…? Well, luckily we’re here to help, and so in this particular blog post we are going to delve into the infinite stretch of the imagination. And that’s because, despite fashioning ourselves as the harbingers of all the best creative minds in the entire world (or something like that…), we have never actually discussed ‘the imagination’ in any of our blog posts… Today, it is time.
The imagination is one of those things (or whatever we may call it) that bears a history and a discourse that feels as impenetrably complex as the idea of the thing itself. To be frank, we have more questions than answers on this subject. What is imagination? When and where was it truly first conceptualised? Is imagination the very essence of art? Do we all have one, even though we know it won’t always be called ‘the imagination’? If so, is it what makes us human? Is the imagination something shared across time and geographical space? And then, we have more questions: if it’s a shared, human faculty – and underpins all artworks – then why is the Euro-American art-world mostly focused upon the imaginations of just a select group, of (mostly-white, mostly-male) canonised artists? And why were (if we’re looking at art history) these artists externalising their imaginations in a mostly visual form? Can such art really capture and translate something as wild and curious, and so obviously slippery, as the imagination? Wow. Okay. That’s enough now. We want answers. Clearly, it’s beyond our powers to provide all (or any, to be honest) of these answers, in this minuscule blog post. So we’ll have to make do with a brief dip of our toes into this mass of a subject. And later down the line, we’ll dive in deeper.
So, in European theories of aesthetics – and this is arguably an idea that has stuck with us today – the imagination has often been conceptualised as looking inwards, in order to open up ‘the mind’s eye’ and see beyond the visible world. During the late 19th century, theories of the ‘psychologie nouvelle’ (particularly that of Charcot and Bernheim) claimed the world to be a “torrential flow of stimuli” that is processed by the brain and produced as a complex plethora of images (1). It was this flow and explosion of images, that the mind’s eye would be able to see. Capturing this processing of stimuli, and flinging down the arising images in some artistic form, was described by Charcot as “externali[zing] the inner vision” (2). So art, then, was definitively perceived as harnessing the perception of the mind’s eye, and fixing it so that the earth-bound world could experience it too.
Clearly, over the past 150 years, scientific research and psychological theory has moved on, but the essence of this idea retains pertinency – the imagination is thought of as a world that only the mind’s eye can truly see. This ‘eye’ can ‘see’ things that, otherwise, seem to not exist. And we’re just tantalized by the idea that infinite universes and experiences actually do exist, but somewhere far beyond our ability to physically access them. Although, Virtual Reality and multisensory media is certainly bringing us closer to feeling like we really can reach those worlds of our imaginations.
We like the idea of worlds experienced only by the mind’s eye. But we don’t like its visual dominance – it is exclusive and limiting. And we absolutely do not think it comes close to explaining what the imagination might be. But we like it as a starting point for our discussion. So, to test it out a little bit, we are going to see how a handful of our own artists have exercised their ‘mind’s eye’ – across a series of blogs. We want to see how they’ve looked beyond the visible, and, in Charcot’s words, have externalised some inner vision (oooooo, wow!) We simply do not have the space to do them all justice in a single blog, so we will seamlessly spread it across a miniseries. Let’s start with one of our artists who has created a Utopian (or, at least, enticingly complex) world of the imagination, that we believe epitomises what we consider to be the imagination… Rosco Brittin, and his Futurattic Roots.
In Brittin’s Futurattic Roots, an Edanic, colourful explosion of a world bursts from the top of a human head. The head itself is beautiful – symmetrical, with full lips, and glittering eyes – but it is not real. Most obviously it’s floating, disembodied, in a perfect block of dusky rose. And its skin – shimmering with a blue and silvery quality – fades into a faint grid, willfully exposing its artificiality. But at the same time, it bears something of the hyperreal. The skin is rendered so radiant, it seems to be more real than real skin, inasmuch as it is more artificial. Likewise, the eyes are so bright, and alive, and the lips so glossy and plump, that they transcend anything resembling actual human features. Only in the imagination can someone (or something) go beyond reality to the extent that they are both more than real, and more than artificial.
What is more, the eyes are wide open – unblinking. This directly subverts a common trope used to represent a human engaged in the imagination; whereby the eyes are depicted as closed to represent the mind’s eye as open. This person, then – with their unrelenting stare – is entirely absorbed in the imagined place; and they are showing it to us here.
Atop the head sits a synthesis of the natural and built – tangled together in a futuristic paradise. It combines naturalistic environments, realistic renderings of both recognisable and entirely invented things, and digital forms – some surreal, some neat and knowable. We can see a Macdonald’s sign, the moon, a disproportionately large bumblebee, a tangled astronaut, gorgeous flora, tentacles, mountains, and an erupting volcano, and that’s just for starters. It draws together, then, past and present; commercial or built, and natural; fictional and scientific; placid and terrifying. Furthermore, the head and its world are stripped entirely from any context. There is no history in this place, no golden thread that draws it all together into a time or a place. It is made from the world we know, but it doesn’t actually resemble it at all. Rather, it illustrates the infinite possibilities of what can be imagined; the endless combinations that can be made by synthesizing fact and fiction – that perhaps could only be accessed by using that ‘mind’s eye’.
So, Rosco Brittin – just like the artists we will show you in the rest of this miniseries – most definitely thought outside of the box (the box that is the visible world around us) and has instead turned inwards; imagined something more. We said in our last blog, this idea is an essential one to embrace during this indoor-orientated time (and, definitely, when we move outdoors again too). Wielding our imaginations for our work, our play, and whatever comes in between, not only makes it all a bit more interesting, but also we believe it gets us more out of everything we do.
As always, thank you for reading. And we will see you at the next blog!
1 D. Silverman. Art Nouveau in Fin-de-siècle France: Politics, Psychology, and Style. (University of California Press, 1989). 88.