“Where did THAT come from?” I’m often asked this question not because I made an object like automobile appear in thin air but because, when I am asked to contribute creative solutions, my comments or suggestions at first glance appear to come out of nowhere.
I found myself asking myself the same question while screening Brian Johnson’s film Yes and No at the Toronto International Film Festival, and again after meeting Dennis Lee, the poet whose words inspired the cinematic treatment, at the post-screening party.
I already knew the answer, at least in some respect. The work came from their imagination and, more importantly, from the knowledge both Brian and Dennis had in store, knowledge that allowed their imaginations to create tangible works rather than thoughts that just swirled inside their brains.
Inventive but pragmatic solutions require someone with both imagination and knowledge. And, as Timothy Williamson points on his article in the New York Times, knowledge – far from being something that inhibits creativity – makes the imagination focused and productive. He writes,
“Constraining imagination by knowledge does not make it redundant. We rarely know an explicit formula that tells us what to do in a complex situation. We have to work out what to do by thinking through the possibilities in ways that are simultaneously imaginative and realistic, and not less imaginative when more realistic. Knowledge, far from limiting imagination, enables it to serve its central function.”
Stewart James was one of the most prolific creators of magic in the twentieth century. He created over a thousand magical pieces while most other magicians were lucky to create a dozen. Among his many innovations was the “Headline Prediction”. Stewart was the first to create and perform this sort of prediction. His initial prediction and one that generated a great deal of publicity, was: ”Germany invades Poland”. That’s right, Stewart correctly predicted the outbreak of World War II!
I’ve written extensively about Stewart and his many modes of generating ideas in Advantage Play. Stewart had a myriad of techniques – idea kindlers – to generate ideas. All, however, were based on a foundation of knowledge. Stewart was extremely well versed in the principles and practice of magic. As far as Stewart was concerned, solutions pre-existed. He simply had to explore his subconscious to find them. So, he regarded himself as an explorer like Christopher Columbus. Instead of looking for the New World, however, Stewart explored the uncharted areas of his imagination. He knew it was a dangerous journey though, and easy to lose one’s way in the imagination. He saw first-hand some of his closest creative friends lose their minds as they spent too much time in their imagination.
Stewart used his superior knowledge of principles, practices and procedures as the constellations that guided his explorations. They also brought him home. He thought he could discover even more solutions, however, if he had a Homing Hopper as his guide.
A Homing Hopper, of course, was a product of Stewart’s imagination. It was a hybrid creature: part Homing Pigeon and part Grasshopper. The Grasshopper could jump from idea to idea, safe in the knowledge that it would never get lost in the depths of the imagination because the Homing Pigeon would bring the mind back to safe ground.
One pundit said that Stewart was in his own little world, but that was okay because they knew him there. I feel the same way.