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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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It’s Friday . . . What’s that you say, Fred?


Fred Flintstone at Halifax Bank

It’s Friday and I’m ready for a good chuckle.

Actually, I got my chuckle a few days ago when I first read about this ad for Halifax Bank in the U.K. Featuring a few of The Flintstones’ characters, the spot does a wonderful job with the animation and the bank’s message.

Kudos to them for wanting to do something different, especially being somewhat contrarian to that British stiff-upper-lip perception.

According to Creativity Magazine, U.K. bank Halifax has collaborated with Warner Bros. once again, this time to feature Flintstones in a spot about switching banks. This ad, by Adam&Eve/DDB, sees Fred and Wilma walk into a Halifax branch and interact with a real-life manager as they explain why they want to switch from their Bedrock bank.

Once again, directorial duo Dom&Nic at Outsider worked with the Mill’s VFX team to integrate the iconic animated characters into a live action setting, and recreate them authentically (and) as close to the original as possible.

The team worked closely with Warner Bros. Consumer Products to get the character designs as accurate as possible, combining modern techniques with more traditional methods.

To give it a classic aged look, the Mill team also hand animated and color graded the entire end sequence, where we see Fred with his new shoes taking Wilma home, followed by Dino. Love the scene where a banker-lady is giving Dino a treat!

I’ve always appreciated a scenario when the agency is blessed with a client who is willing to bend or even break the supposed rules in order to impress and be innovative in a classy and, in this case, cute execution of a timeless classic.

The situation is scripted well and the actors are, well, believable. More importantly, the creative treats the concept with respect.

Alas, the poor boob who plays the banker. Imagine playing second fiddle to a famous caveman who is not part of Geico. Ah, the Brits!

Way to go, Fred and Wilma!

Houston’s Creative Economy – Part Deux

Recently I reported on a day-long event at the University of Houston called Leadership in the Arts Summit: Valuing the 21st Century Creative Economy. The audience was comprised mostly of non-profits and educators but also had artists and other creative entrepreneurs (like yours truly). Those of you who missed that blog post, well, too bad (just kidding).

Morning Panel w/Alfred

Summit 2016 Morning Panel

Since that event a couple weeks ago, there has been some follow up by the folks in UH’s Center for Arts Leadership. They are compiling feedback from attendees in hopes of gathering sufficient info to better plan the next steps. That is no small feat.

Sixto Wagan

Sixto Wagan, Host & Director Leadership in the Arts Summit

Some of the follow up consists of photos and presentations from April 11. Thanks to the University of Houston for these photos from their Flickr page.

I’m appreciative of those who “liked” my post and who left comments. I’m hoping that once you’ve read this and gone on to review the links herein, you’ll provide feedback as to what you think would be viable solutions to organizing our creative organizations around town to better harness our collective creativity.

Summit 2016 Afternoon Panel

Summit 2016 Afternoon Panel

In addition to the Houston Arts Alliance (HAA), the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP), among others, should play a key role in assisting with this movement. Jon Norby, a panelist in one of the afternoon sessions, recently joined the Partnership last year as Director of Talent Attraction and Marketing. I talked with him afterwards to get a feel for the GHP’s perspective about this new creative economy. While he acknowledged the challenges in communication among all of Houston’s various groups, he admitted it’s a challenge we must overcome to ensure the vibrancy in our creative community we all seek.

A few examples of where creative alliances have been formed, and can be formed in Houston and other cities, include Baltimore, Austin and Milwaukee. In fact, Christine Harris, who lead the first discussion, co-founded and was the CEO of the Milwaukee alliance.

As Sixto Wagan commented in his closing remarks, let us hope five years from now we’re not still trying to start a conversation that we’ve already begun present day. We’ve got a ton of talent at our disposal but we’re not clicking on all cylinders yet.

Though it may seem like we’re trying to lasso a large, puffy cloud, let’s get better organized and talk amongst one another. Let’s continue the discussion. Our creative community deserves no less.

So, who’s with me?

Summit 2016 Audience

Summit 2016 Audience

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 as a Problem Solver

During my recent presentation on creativity and creative thinking to the AAF Rio Grande Valley, I referenced using creativity to help solve problems. No matter how cutesy an ad looks or what kind of special effects one uses, if a problem does not get closer to being solved, the process is not doing any good.

The following video is one I suggested that interestingly addresses how creativity helps solve problems. It’s an excerpt from this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, where a group of people who work in media, design, and the arts were asked about how the creative process can lend itself to unlocking solutions.

 

Creativity: Not Your Typical Loaf of Bread

As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “I don’t get no respect.” Creativity is like that, as are, for the most part, the artisans and thinkers who practice it everyday.

Creativity is not a commodity, like a loaf of bread or a carton of milk. Those items are commodities.

But what if that bread was a special blend of pumpkin, barley, cranberry and wheat? It would still be a loaf of bread but the process of blending different ingredients to make the loaf atypical (and still tasty) is creative. A lot more than just adding ingredients goes into making this special bread loaf. The baker has to know what he or she is doing, what may work and what may not. It’s a process, and a creative one.

Do they teach that in culinary school?

Thanks to iStockPhoto

Thanks to iStockPhoto

The art of creativity is a disruption to the normal way of thinking. As a society, we need to be more disruptive, more open to solving problems while exploring opportunities. In being creative, one doesn’t accept the status quo; one wants to change and improve upon it.

This frightens some folks. They don’t like change, and don’t have a great deal of respect for those who do. They don’t understand the creative mind or the process. They merely view it as a commodity.

How do we change that? Maybe we don’t. We can educate and explain, and that will help, but we need to do that with the right audience – folks who are at least open to dialogue, are curious. They may even ask “Well, instead of pumpkin and cranberry, what about pineapple and mango blending with the barley and wheat?”

Hmmmm, a showing of respect for the process?

Who knows, if they’re really daring, they may consider introducing a new line of baked breads. Heaven forbid that the consumers get another choice!

This creative thinking is a disruption to the status quo. This won’t set well with those who don’t want the status quo changed.

Respect for those of us who do? Forget it!

Yet, creative ideas for the most part have flourished over the years. Along with this, various media have caused a different type of playing field to be formed with creativity serving up some new and different rules.

Creative options equal what-ifs. Commodities don’t care about what-ifs.

Creativity lends itself to storytelling. Commodities don’t (I suppose they can but it would be rather challenging). Creativity allows for storytelling to be transformed into Web, mobile, social, broadcast, print, wherever.  There’s a disruption in the creative process, and the art of storytelling is leading the way.

You can’t do that with a commodity. Long live creativity. Long live disruption.

 

 

Innovation: There’s Apple, Samsung and the Rest of Us

We hear it probably more than we should. Is it becoming an overused word or has it attained that status yet?

Yes, I believe “innovation” is an overused word. And, it’s applied by folks, some of whom should know better, who think every creative endeavor is innovative.

I wish that were the case. It’s not.

OK, reality check time.

According to Wikipedia, “innovation” is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new that “breaks into” the market or society.

So, the next time you change that blue logo to green and make it larger (along with a change of font, of course), you’re not being innovative. It may still be questionable as to how creative you’re actually being.

Of course, innovation goes far beyond a logo or font change. Today’s innovative spheres are super competitive. Just look at the escalating war between Apple and Samsung.

In a recent article by the Associated Press in the Houston Chronicle, the two are back in court this week, accusing each other of stealing ideas and features on their smartphones. Litigation could lead to more expensive devices for the consumer and slow the overall pace of mobile innovation.

The Chronicle article cites Rutgers Law School professor Michael Carrier as saying, “What’s even more worrisome for the effect on innovation is the impact on small innovators. Apple and Samsung can afford this litigation. The next upstart cannot.”

Apple and Samsung are in a league of their own. They share that “super league” with the Googles, Amazons and Microsofts.

For the rest of us on this planet, how should we approach innovation? What should our mindset be?

Well, according to a creative team leader at Google, one should only start looking to innovate when:

– one has totally nailed every best practice and has tapped out on what that can deliver,
– one has an insight to justify an innovative approach.

Otherwise, he says, what one ends up making is gimmickry, inevitably destined for the digital landfill.

One thing is for certain:  We cannot stop innovating, thinking differently, and, yes, counting our failures (they will come, ya know).

So, what’s your take? 

Agree? – Disagree? – Thoughts? – Comments?