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Imagination Part 2

These days, when technology plays such a significant role in all aspects of our lives, and in much of what we do, there is a strong relationship between “IT” and our imagination: when they are not in balance, technology itself can overshadow imagination and seemingly become the ultimate answer to all. But when they are, technology empowers us, acting as our “magic wand”.

To ignite, liberate and empower imagination to its fullest and most potent we need to open our minds to, and embrace, "gravity free and reality independent” thinking. Only then imagination transforms into a limitless, infinite state of a creative mind within which everything is attainable and nothing is unthinkable. Within it creativity roams free, unbounded by time, space, reality, logic, rules, dimension, mental or physical gravity or laws. In this inspiring state of mind imagination acts as a fuel for creativity, ideas, ground breaking innovative concepts or visions of what could be, but only if we dare. 

These days, when technology plays such a significant role in all aspects of our lives, and in much of what we do, there is a strong relationship between “IT” and our imagination: when they are not in balance, technology itself can overshadow imagination and seemingly become the ultimate answer to all. But when they are, technology empowers us, acting as our “magic wand”.

A step back in time. We are born with an inner, natural, vibrant imagination. When very young, we live in the worlds defined by our innocently sparkling, fertile imagination. Unfortunately, as we begin to grow, the reality and learning gravitate our imagination. Our opportunities to live in imaginary worlds, our will to, an appetite for, or desire to risk exploring and imagining, diminish.

Initially corrected by our own parents, undoubtedly in their minds doing so for our good, then corrected by our teachers, who believe that we need to fit in and conform to standards of the educational system designed by them, the very grown ups who themselves are a by-product of that system, eventually dictated by our careers and standards by which our success is measured, and lastly by the society itself, we are progressively molded and remolded to fit a certain, socially defined and approved, template. Unluckily, we are not talking here about making some yummy cookies. It's the minds, our imagination, our individuality and innocence that are at stake.

So what is the antidote? Our leaders, especially when seeking to be elected, promise us to restructure education, to make us, and our children, more competitive in the world market. They preach to us rejuvenating creativity and empowering ideation, original thinking, which generate innovation. Yet I do not need to tell you what happens once we, especially those of us who realize how faulty the system is, still naively, idealistically and passionately throw our votes towards electing the one who speaks loudest to our hopes and dreams. One disappointment after another make us feel that our ideals are utopian, unrealistic. Such dissolutions, in turn, further trim the wings of our imagination. Again, we adopt. After all, this is what humanity is so good at.

Yet, even if only for the pure joy of doing so, but ideally for the value of intellectual and creative empowerment, probing, inspiring and cultivating our imagination, and a state of an open, fertile mind, is vital to each of us as individuals, but also to humanity’s future. Regrettably, most of us who have gone through the grinder and a molder, and who has not, do not realize it anymore.

Over an extensive journey that has shaped both my creative and academic careers, I have come across so many, around the world, who, when challenged and empowered to imagine, asked to let themselves fly, to take a risk, to envision impossible, to dream and, through their creative abilities, bring their dreams to life, exclaim: “… but we do not know how to imagine anymore!” Often, worse yet, when asked, “what would you wish for if given one magic wish, anything at all…” they come back with the most pragmatic, materialist or uninspiring answers. I am not even talking of ideals. Frequently, when offered such a dream assignment, students begin by defining a given software, one they are most familiar with. Then, based on the package’s strength, they generate a story, or an idea that will transform their wish, or a dream, into a magic reality. Thus technology limits and gravitates their imagination. As I said in the previous blog, the breath of the wings of imagination is at its greatest within a “gravity free and reality independent” space. It is there, independently of physical or mental gravity, known reality or technology, that the most inspiring ideas and concepts await us, eager to be impregnated or otherwise envisioned, but also embraced and discovered by those of us who dare to brave into such an imaginary space.

I have encountered these challenges globally, in both the old and the new cultures. As the world shrinks, due to globalization, it impacts and molds diversity into a monolithically reality. Ironically, at the same time, technology is becoming more and more powerful. Increasingly it empowers realization of the most exciting, most imaginative and thrilling ideas or concepts. Technology is indeed becoming a mighty “magic wand” in the hands of creativity. Therefore, this is the most auspicious, and most precious of times to ignite, inspire and then cultivate power of imagination. This is the time for us to imagine a dream, and for our technology to make it come true.

And now, a sudden but yet a very relevant detour. Why do we go to an art college, or study art, design or media at a university? Why do we seek higher education? Why do we spend so much of our precious time and so much of our parents’ money on such a venture? Is it for a diploma, a document which will legitimize our skills, knowledge, credentials, our fitness for the employability or the career market, or even make us respectable in the society’s eyes and minds? Some of the greatest achievers, innovators, inventors, artists, mold breakers, famous individuals in the human history, have never been to college or a university, have never earn a degree, or were drop outs.

I ask this question of those I mentor, and most of them have never pondered this question. I did not. It was simply expected of me. I was a child of educated parents, living in a society that looked highly upon those who were members of the “intelligentia”. Hence, there was never a question of whether this is a choice. It was simply the thing to do, period. Fortunately for me, just as I graduated from high school, the whole hell broke loose in my life. As a result I became a political émigré, a persona non grata, an individual without a home, without a citizenship, without a country. That threw a few curves my way. That shook me up, made me look at the world in a new light, with eyes wide open and a mind nearing a frying point. That was a cold shower for me, a truly sobering experience that, in a briefest of time, forced me to distill my priorities, values, ideas, aspirations and dreams. But “luckily”, majority of young man and women never go through such havocs as I, hence do not experience such awakening. For me, seeking greater knowledge suddenly became a goal worth working for, earning money in the oddest of jobs, worth packing my belongings once again only to departing for yet another unknown country, where I was fortunate enough to afford an academic education too prohibitive where I was.

So, when I ask this question of my students, they do not know, they simply have not considered that as a choice or thought of any other options. Some do it for their parents; most just want to get a job, think that diploma represents the key to their eventual success. And, who is to argue with that? After all, this is what the society preaches to us when we are young and vulnerable.

Likely due to my experience, I realized that university signifies a creative oasis within pragmatic, often unforgiving, demanding and competitive world. It is a haven for a young individual, where to open one’s wings and learn to fly. It is a safe, “padded” environment within which to take risks, to explore, to have un-safe ideas, to hit your head against the wall of a mold, to break it, or break through it, to make mistakes, and to learn from them, to discover one-self, to find one’s own identity and, through it, empowerment, even the ideals forth fighting for in the life ahead. This is the time to awake your imagination and then to push it to its limits, and beyond. School is the place where to try all and everything which soon, upon graduation, will not be permitted or tolerated on the outside. This is the shortest and the most precious of time to find oneself.

Otherwise, in my personal judgment, it's a waste of time and money. Young person can learn all the practical skills, tools, methodologies, software, teamwork, co-production, responsibility, professionalism, and much more, much faster, and much more efficiently, as an apprentice on a job. Thus, in the process, s/he will gain critical, highly sought after professional experience and contacts, even an actual, real production credits! All this while being paid, instead of paying!

A great believer in this attitude, I strive to awake hibernating imagination of those I mentor. Through self-discovery, self-reflection, I embark them on their search for identity, for what they are about, for what they believe and are willing to fight for, for their own ideas, ideals and all that makes them unique. After all, why would you want to be like someone else? Why would you want to copy what other has done or already expressed in their work? Why would you want to be a shadow, a copy? Instead, why would not want to, even desire, to find your voice, tell your own stories, express your own feelings, impact others by who you are and what you are about?

And so, at a cost of spending the precious time on exposing students to the hands-on tools, to the greatest, most advanced and the highest-end software, I instead make them think, feel and reflect, and then get them to express in their own unique ways, and visualize their own deeply felt stories, ideas and the very essence of who they are about, whether good and happy or sad and painful. And guess what happens, when they find such passion within themselves? Inspired, they also find their own ways of bringing their deeply felt dreams to life, whether through still designs or stories evolving via time, motion and space. They learn the tools all by themselves!

Thus I have concluded that those academic institutions or programs that funnel their and their students precious time to teaching and learning software, are taking on an easygoing, safe path. They give their students the tools with which, upon graduation, to get a job, but not the insight into how these tools can truly become the “magic wands” in the hands of their students’ mighty imagination. Whether these students eventually elect to join an existing studio, becoming a “human tool” in the hands of others, or instead chance, as I did in my career, to become independent artists, free to choose their own path, their projects, able to conceive their own proposals, fueled to animate their life and a resulting career, seems secondary to their mentors. Most schools, not all, mold you to the needs of the employment market. Why, because this does represent a safer path. Electing to become free and independent is much more scary, dangerous, unstable, insecure, especially in a middle of the night when you do not know where and when the next project is coming from, but yet so much more rewarding. This is not for everyone. But those who have dreams ought to ask themselves, isn’t life is too short for anything else?

I have taught many students in many countries. I have conducted Master Classes and creative workshops dedicated to inspiring imagination and “gravity free and reality independent” ideation, storytelling that is liberated from the life’s restrains, concept designs that probe not just what is but also what could be ahead. All this is done independently of current tools and technologies. These change with every moment, and if thought of at the initial impregnation, ideation, and imagination stage of birth and evolution of what is yet to come, they can gravitate our ideas, limit the span of our wings, shackle our dreams and constrict our visions.

Admittedly not each and all welcome my ideas, or my approach and ways. Some hate it because it is too personal, too emotional or too probing. They fear such risks, are afraid of exposing their feelings and personal stories. Yet those who are enticed by a possibility, who are willing to take their chances, find it revealing, insightful, inspiring, motivational and empowering. Some write to me later on, even a few years after, calling it “life changing”. Who can ask for anything more?

And so, I stand by my “gravity free and reality independent” thinking and ideation and the ways I, as an artist, designer, director and mentor strive to promote, disseminate and herald my allied ideology. I hope that, after you read my blogs, you will find it a potent topic for deep reflection.