The Boundaries of the Imagination

Are there any?

That’s what a recent weekend conference at The Jung Center on Montrose in the Museum District here in Houston explored. What did we come up with? Jury’s still out.

The Boundaries of the Imagination

I’ve been to only a couple of seminars at The Jung Center over the years and, coincidentally, both had to do with imagination as it relates to imagery and creativity.

Both were also moderated by my friend, Felix Scardino, author of The Pebble and the Canyon.

Now, I’m not a therapist nor do I have that type of background, although I have spent years in the advertising and creative industry so, I suppose, there are some who would say I’ve been in therapy all these years!

This special summer conference, The Boundaries of the Imagination, intrigued me.

When I reviewed the list of speakers for this weekend conference, I’ll admit to not knowing any of them. Yet, I anticipated the experience, the topics. I also assumed I would be in the minority; I am not a therapist or a psychologist. I’m just a curious creative.

Friday night began with a lecture from Jeffrey Kripal, PhD, past chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Rice University. His lecture, “When the Imagined Is Not Imaginary,” seemed to center on the evolutionary goal of imagination. Quite extraordinary.

Though it was a very thoughtful discussion, it really got down into the “imaginary weeds” for this listener. When Jeffrey mentioned the term “imaginal,” he went on to define it according to one Mr. Frederick Myers as “imagination on spiritual steroids.”

According to Frederick Myers, imaginal is defined as “imagination on spiritual steroids.”

HELLO!  Spiritual steroids? I’m not sure what the hell that means but it grabbed my attention.

Saturday morning’s session, “The Street of Heaven Was as Glass,” was a conversation between Jay Wehnert (right, below) of Intuitive Eye, his arts organization founded in 2011, and Vanzant Driver (left, below), a Houston-based artist whose work  is included in The Menil Collection.

IMG_1048

This conversation was a highlight for me personally just to listen and observe. One of the observations from Vanzant really touched my spirit – “Inspiration is the medicine for the soul and creativity.”

DAMN!

“I can’t wait to inspire somebody,” Vanzant said. “This should be what gets you up everyday.”

Inspiration is the medicine for the soul and creativity – Vanzant Driver

Since different attendees would no doubt mention other things that got their attention, I won’t attempt to cover everything from that weekend. My thoughts and impressions are my own. So are my dreams and my imagination.

IMG_1052

There will also be other blog posts, I’m sure.

As a photog-hobbyist, I couldn’t help but capture one of my conference colleagues chatting with Vanzant about her artwork in abstract visualization (I think that’s what she called it). Her paintings are hanging in back of her and Vanzant.

According to Vanzant, the philosopher, “the most powerful things in the universe are things you can’t see.”

We sometimes forget this. Hmmm, let me rephrase that . . . we rarely remember this!

 

Before we wound up our weekend conference, I participated in one last exercise. I played in the sand. Well, I had my own sand trap, er, tray. I even got to select as many toys, er, symbols, as I could carry.

But before that, I closed my eyes and “became one with the sand.” I moved my hands around the sand and just had fun, like the little kid inside me did many years ago, both on Lake Charles (LA) and Galveston beaches.

IMG_1060

“Playing in the Imagination” was what we did under the watchful eyes of Michele Lees, a depth psychotherapist in private practice in Houston with emphasis and training in Jungian psychology. And, evidently, one helluva sand castle builder!

Each one of the objects in my sand tray above represented something to me; some of them really did “call out to me” to be chosen, just as Michelle advised they would.

In case you can’t quite make it out, that is indeed a sleigh sitting within the branches of the Christmas tree . . . on a beach next to a treasure chest near a beached boat. The symbolism I was feeling that Sunday morning was both of fond memories and sadness (note the half buried Eiffel Tower near the voodoo doll), and, well, use your imagination to figure out the rest.

The entire weekend was like nothing I had experienced before. Not being a therapist, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being of the creative bent, I anticipated exploring my imagination in ways I had not, uh, imagined before.

Presenters to 2016 Summer Conference at Jung Center

Each one of the “speakers, therapists, authors, experts” were enlightening and, dare I say, imaginative. If you get the chance to hear one of these folks speak or present, go for it.

Have we been underestimating the power and reach of the imagination? Perhaps.

It is my firm belief that creativity is entrenched in our imagination. In fact, my favorite definition of imagination is “intelligence having fun.”

Yet, is imagination a location, an experience, a physical phenomenon? What is, as the brochure talking about this conference asks, its hidden power in a culture that tends to understand imagination as the opposite of reality?

Are there boundaries of imagination? If so, how many and are they truly discernible? What are the possibilities in exploring them and what do we risk?

What if we come to understand that imagination is reality?

What then?

Then, my friends, we come to grips with our emotions and, when we’re ready, if we truly are, we take another trek into the vast landscape of our own imagination to explore.

But be cautious. Rational thought may be cast aside; symbolism may take over. Creativity may be awakened. A new masterpiece may be unfolding right before your eyes.

Capture it, and enjoy . . . before it goes poof!

 

Editors Note: Those of you wanting to see Jay & Vanzant’s conversation can view it on YouTube.

Advertisements

Our Creative Economy: Listen up, Houston!

This past Monday, April 11, I had the pleasure of attending a day-long discussion “Valuing the Creative Economy” at the third Leadership in the Arts Summit held at the Center for Arts Leadership at the University of Houston. Quite a stunning facility!

I learned about this summit from my friend and Only in Houston Co-chair Alfred Cervantes, who besides being the deputy director of the Houston Film Commission was also a panelist addressing the question “Creative Economy: What is it and why does it matter”?

IMG_0919

Because of the length of the Summit and the depth of discussion that took place and will continue in the weeks and months to come, there will be subsequent posts about our progress and how all this can tie together here in Houston. There will also be photos and presentations from the Summit posted to the Center’s website in the days ahead.

The goal of the Summit, according to Sixto Wagan, Director, Center for Arts Leadership, is “to bring our creative community together to talk and to envision a collective future. The panels are meant to push beyond the simple binaries, help us question assumptions, and move the conversation forward toward action.”

Christine Harris lead the opening plenary (formal seminar-speak) “Creative Economy: What is it and why does it matter”? Christine has been working with creative enterprises and community development for over 30 years and was recently in Houston last November headlining a similarly-themed morning workshop at the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) and an evening panel discussion at Gensler.

IMG_0904

Harris co-founded the Creative Economy Coalition, a working committee of the National Creativity Network, and designed and executed the nation’s first review of defining the creative economy. This study profiled and inventoried how 27 communities around the nation were profiling and measuring their creative economies. She was CEO of Creative Alliance Milwaukee, where she managed a full profile of the regional creative economy and developed online resources for the sector.

It’s not my intent to cover all that was discussed during the Summit in one blog post. We’d be reading for days! I merely want to further the conversation that was “started” last November and continued this past Monday.

And Houston, we’ve got work to do.

Just consider these questions:

IMG_0908

And then, there’s the $64,000 question:

IMG_0952

Obviously, these questions don’t have simple, ready-made answers. They do, however, demand discussion and we need to continue this.

Feel free to comment and send me input on possible answers or solutions to these questions. You can also post your ideas on OiH-FaceBook and/or the Arts Leadership-FaceBook.

The various communication organizations in and around the city are a major resource for input and counsel. So, too, are the fine educational and non-profit venues in our area. Although this Summit centered around the arts, creativity knows no boundaries.

Through the American Advertising Federation Houston (AAFH), Only in Houston (OiH) was born a decade ago. Its intent was, and still is, to keep local creative dollars spent locally. There was even a multi-communication organization formed years ago (Houston Communication Alliance) aimed at bringing together all “creatives.”

Times change as do people and industries. Houston’s Creative Economy and its driving forces need to meet today’s challenges with tomorrow in mind. We may need to rethink how this is done. Other communities around the country are doing so, and it will take just that: A Houston-wide effort. No one organization or person can do this.

At the risk of thinking out loud (even though I’m typing this in silence), maybe Only in Houston morphs into a “Houston Creative Coalition,” which is comprised of organizations like the Houston Arts Alliance, Greater Houston Partnership, numerous professional and arts organizations, etc.? We can learn a lot from others who have started something like this. But Houston needs to create something that works in Houston, not Boston.

And we must do a helluva lot better job of communicating with one another so that we all know what’s going on and when. No problem; piece o’ cake!

The Leadership in Arts Summit 2016 is a recent example of creativity and economics blending and working together for the common good. We need to make sure the conversation continues and progresses.

More to come . . .

Onward!

 

Advertising Hall of Fame Quotes – Part 2

Here’s another in a multi-part series of various worth-remembering quotes which I believe you’ll find interesting and hopefully inspiring. Excerpted from the newsletter “Smart Brief” from the American Advertising Federation, these quotes are usually from a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame.

Get ready to chuckle, and, I hope, remember.

q-curly-double

11. Know what the client wants, know what the client needs, and know how to cause the client to want what the client needs.

— Keith Reinhard

12. The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.

— Charles Brower

13. The three ingredients of effective advertising are relevance, originality and impact, the initials of which spell out what clients most desire: ROI.

— Keith Reinhard

14. Anyone who thinks that people can be fooled or pushed around has an inaccurate and pretty low estimate of people — and he won’t do very well in advertising.

— Leo Burnett

15. Creativity varies inversely with the number of cooks involved in the broth.

— Bernice Fitz-Gibbon

16. When you are through changing, you are through.

— Bruce Barton

17. There are two kinds of men who don’t amount to much: those who can’t do what they are told and those who can do nothing else.

— Cyrus H. K. Curtis

18. You must make the product interesting, not just make the ad different. And that’s what too many of the copywriters in the U.S. today don’t yet understand.

— Rosser Reeves

19. Advertising is the ability to sense, interpret … to put the very heart throbs of a business into type, paper and ink.

— Leo Burnett

20. An important idea not communicated persuasively is like having no idea at all.

— William Bernbach

So, which one or ones is/are your favorite(s)? Lemme know.

GE’s attempt to “creaturefy” scary ideas – not bad!

Ideas can scare the hell out of people. They can denote change if they’re adopted.

Too many times we’re not even given the time to explore generating new ideas. Yet, we seem to be constantly trying to evolve and innovate. Hmmmm, last time I checked, one needed ideas to do that. At least one.

This is the third in a series of four related blog posts I referenced in my recent presentation to the AAF Rio Grande Valley. It pertains to ideas and how people react to them. It’s not always receptive especially since ideas are not always welcome.

Hats of to GE for this innovative commercial about ideas and their surprising effects on people. It’s actually been airing since 2014 but I just noticed it a few months ago, and again recently. Good for them to continue the campaign.

The first time I saw it, I really wasn’t sure what I was watching. The more I watched, the more intrigued I got. It still “gets” me in an unnerving kind of way. Several times I just wanted to go “yuck” to myself, but then felt guilty about wanting to do so.

For those who haven’t seen it or who might have missed it, here’s what a scary idea could look like. Next time you come across one, you might give it a bit more respect than one normally would.

 

Creativity Tip #18: Why not’s and so what’s

Years ago I learned the value of asking “why?” during an interview or conversation with someone from whom I wanted information for an article or ad. The more involved in the subject we dove, the more times I had to think of different ways to say “why?”. “Tell me more,” I’d say or “could you explain that?” — any phrase that would allow me to dive deeper into the subject matter.

Changing things up just a tad, I’d often interject “why not?” when my interviewee would proclaim as fact that something could not be made, redesigned, sold, given away, etc.

Interestingly, it was during some of these times when I’d get an adverse reaction like, “whaddya mean, why not?” It was as if I’d challenged him on his very credentials of smartness.

But none of those times met with as much of a surprise (disdain, maybe) as when I’d ask, as professionally respectful as I could, “so what?” when my subject expert just proclaimed that his or her product or service is “#1” at doing such and such or is the “leader in this and that.”

Usually, I follow up my “so what?” with something like “how is that significant?” or “how will your customer benefit?” That kinda takes some of the sting out of the “so what?” even when you ask it nicely.

Remember, we are the outsider looking into their world, which they hold very dear. In some respects, they view us as challenging them even though our objective is to create a meaningful and interesting story for our readers, and theirs.

Emotions aside, don’t ever be afraid to ask as many “why not’s” and “so what’s” as it takes to get to the bottom of the real, meaningful story. I find it easier to convey interest when either of those phrases are used in conjunction with a statement just uttered by the expert.

It helps both you and your interviewee dive deeper together in discussing information that, quite possibly, hadn’t been thought of before or at least from the perspective you’re providing.

You’re building trust during this dialogue. Both of you are professionals and should respect one another.

Just keep that in mind when you ask your next “so what?”

Creativity Tip #4

How do you know when you’ve hit THE idea? There are different approaches but this one is sort of like thinking in reverse. I call it the Drill Down Technique.

Begin with writing a one or two word idea on a small “sticky note.” These ideas address or answer a specific question that attempts to solve a problem.

coloredstickies

This works better in a group of about four or five, and is a timed exercise of about ten minutes.

So have a timer (electronic or a person) monitor closely.

Once you have, say, 25 or more ideas (“stickies”), choose what you consider to be the best five ideas . . . and ELIMINATE THEM.

At this point, most likely whoever is keeping time will come by and collect the now-discarded ideas. They no longer exist for (for now).

Choose five more from your “sticky notes” and ELIMINATE THEM.

Continue this process in increments of five until you have five best ideas left. Then eliminate three, then one.

Maybe this last idea you have is the best one; maybe not. However, it’s one to which you may not have paid much attention if you had gone through these ideas in a more traditional way.

Now, go do your due diligence and find out.

You never know.

Creativity Tip #117

When was the last time you tried to explain something to an 8-year old? Now, when was the last time you tried to explain something to a group of adults? Did you experience the same feelings or results?

When explaining an idea, consider this: If you can explain your idea to an 8-year old, and she gets it, you’re golden. Children force us to think at the core level, without all the garbage adults heap on top.

If you can’t find an 8-year old, try a stuffed animal. You’ll get their undivided attention. If you feel silly in the process, that’s okay; silly is all part of it.

Taking it a step further, try putting the stuffed animal and the 8-year old together for a mini focus group. The worse that could happen – it may get you to think some more.