The Foundations Of The Creative Imagination

Why is the human mind able to create? In a certain sense this question

may seem idle, childish, and even worse. We might just as well ask why

does man have eyes and not an electric apparatus like the torpedo? Why

does he perceive directly sounds but not the ultra-red and ultra-violet

rays? Why does he perceive changes of odors but not magnetic changes?

And so on ad infinitum. We will put the question in a very different

manner: Being given the physical and mental constitution of man such as

it is at present, how is the creative imagination a natural product of

this constitution?

Man is able to create for two principal reasons. The first, motor in

nature, is found in the action of his needs, appetites, tendencies,

desires. The second is the possibility of a spontaneous revival of

images that become grouped in new combination.

1. We have already shown in detail that the hypothesis of a

"creative instinct," if the expression is used not as an abbreviated or

metaphorical formula but in the strict sense, is a pure chimera, an

empty entity. In studying the various types of imagination we have

always been careful to note that every mode of creation may be reduced,

as regards its beginnings, to a tendency, a want, a special, determinate

desire. Let us recall for the last time these initial conditions of all

invention--these desires, conscious or not, that excite it.

The wants, tendencies, desires--it matters not which term we adopt--the

whole of which constitutes the instinct of individual preservation, have

been the generators of all inventions dealing with food-getting,

housing, making of weapons, instruments, and machines.

The need for individual and social expansion or extension has given rise

to military, commercial, and industrial invention, and in its

disinterested form, esthetic creation.

As for the sexual instinct, its psychic fertility is in no way less than

the physical--it is an inexhaustible source of imagination in everyday

life as well as in art.

The wants of man in contact with his fellows have engendered, through

instinctive or reflective action, the numerous social and practical

creations regulating human groups, and they are rough or complex, stable

or unstable, just or unjust, kindly or harsh.

The need of knowing and of explaining, well or ill, has created myths,

religions, philosophical systems, scientific hypotheses.

Every want, tendency or desire may, then, become creative, by itself or

associated with others, and into these final elements it is that

analysis must resolve "creative spontaneity." This vague expression

corresponds to a sum, not to a special property. Every invention,

then, has a motor origin; the ultimate basis of the constructive

imagination is motor.

2. But needs and desires by themselves cannot create--they are only a

stimulus and a spring. Whence arises the need of a second condition--the

spontaneous revival of images.

In many animals that are endowed only with memory the return of images

is always provoked. Sensation from without or from within bring them

into consciousness under the form, pure and simple, of former

experience; whence we have reproduction, repetition without new

associations. People of slight imagination and used to routine approach

this mental condition. But, as a matter of fact, man from his second

year on, and some higher animals, go beyond this stage--they are capable

of spontaneous revival. By this term I mean that revival that comes

about abruptly, without apparent antecedents. We know that these act

in a latent form, and consist of thinking by analogy, affective

dispositions, unconscious elaboration. This sudden appearance excites

other states which, grouped into new associations, contain the first

elements of the creative act.

Taken altogether, and however numerous its manifestations, the

constructive imagination seems to me reducible to three forms, which I

shall call sketched, fixed, objectified, according as it remains

an internal fancy, or takes on a material but contingent and unstable

form, or is subjected to the conditions of a rigorous internal or

external determinism.

(a) The sketched form is primordial, original, the simplest of all; it

is a nascent moment or first attempt. It appears first of all in

dreaming--an embryonic, unstable and uncoordinated manifestation of the

creative imagination--a transition-stage between passive reproduction

and organized construction. A step higher is revery, whose flitting

images, associated by chance, without personal intervention, are

nevertheless vivid enough to exclude from consciousness every impression

of the external world--so much so that the day-dreamer re-enters it only

with a shock of surprise. More coherent are the imaginary constructions

known as "castles in Spain"--the works of a wish considered

unrealizable, fancies of love, ambition, power and wealth, the goal of

which seems to be forever beyond our reach. Lastly, still higher, come

all the plans for the future conceived vaguely and as barely

possible--foreseeing the end of a sickness, of a business enterprise, of

a political event, etc.

This vague and "outline" imagination, penetrating our entire life, has

its peculiar characters--the unifying principle is nil or ephemeral,

which fact always reduces it to the dream as a type; it does not

externalize itself, does not change into acts, a consequence of its

basically chimerical nature or of weakness of will, which reduces it to

a strictly internal and individual existence. It is needless to say that

this kind of imagination is a permanent and definite form with the

dreamers living in a world of ceaselessly reappearing images, having no

power to organize them, to change them into a work of art, a theory, or

a useful invention.

The "sketched" form is or remains an elementary, primitive, automatic

form. Conformably to the general law ruling the development of

mind--passage from indefinite to definite, from the incoherent to the

coherent, from spontaneity to reflection, from the reflex to the

voluntary period--the imagination comes out of its swaddling-clothes,

is changed--through the intervention of a teleological act that assigns

it an end; through the union of rational elements that subdue it for an

adaptation. Then appear the other two forms.

(b) The fixed form comprises mythic and esthetic creations,

philosophical and scientific hypotheses. While the "outline" imagination

remains an internal phenomenon, existing only in and for a single

individual, the fixed form is projected outwards, made something else.

The former has no reality other than the momentary belief accompanying

it; the latter exists by itself, for its creator and for others; the

work is accepted, rejected, examined, criticised. Fiction rests on the

same level as reality. Do not people discuss seriously the objective

value of certain myths, and of metaphysical theories? the action of a

novel or drama as though it were a matter of real events? the character

of the dramatis personae as though they were living flesh and blood?

The fixed imagination moves in an elastic frame. The material elements

circumscribing it and composing it have a certain fluidity; they are

language, writing, musical sounds, colors, forms, lines. Furthermore, we

know that its creations, in spite of the spontaneous adherence of the

mind accepting them, are the work of a free will; they could have been

otherwise--they preserve an indelible imprint of contingency and


(c) This last mark is rubbed out without disappearing (for a thing

imagined is always a personal thing) in the objectified form that

comprises successful practical inventions--whether mechanical,

industrial, commercial, military, social, or political. These have no

longer an arbitrary, borrowed reality; they have their place in the

totality of physical and social phenomena. They resemble creations of

nature, subject like them to fixed conditions of existence and to a

limited determinism. We shall not dwell longer on this last character,

so often pointed out.

In order the better to comprehend the distinction between the three

forms of imagination let us borrow for a moment the terminology of

spiritualism or of the common dualism--merely as a means of explaining

the matter clearly. The "outline" imagination is a soul without a body,

a pure spirit, without determination in space. The "fixed" imagination

is a soul or spirit surrounded by an almost immaterial sheath, like

angels or demons, genii, shadows, the "double" of savages, the

peresprit of spiritualists, etc. The objectified imagination is soul

and body, a complete organization after the pattern of living people;

the ideal is incarnated, but it must undergo transformation, reductions

and adaptations, in order that it may become practical--just as the

soul, according to spiritualism, must bend to the necessities of the

body, to be at the same time the servant of, and served by, the bodily


According to general opinion the great imaginers are found only in the

first two classes, which is, in the strict sense of the word, true; in

the full sense of the word false. As long as it remains "outline," or

even "fixed," the constructive imagination can reign as supreme

mistress. Objectified, it still rules, but shares its power with

competitors; it avails nought without them, they can do nothing without

it. What deceives us is the fact that we see it no longer in the open.

Here the imaginative stroke resembles those powerful streams of water

that must be imprisoned in a complicated network of canals and

ramifications varying in shape and in diameter before bursting forth in

multiple jets and in liquid architecture.

The Emotional Factor The Higher Forms Of Invention facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail