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Imagination Part 4

I challenge students to expose themselves, not physically but spiritually. I call upon them to “take the condom off their head”, have an unsafe idea, for life is too short and precious for following in someone else’s steps, make your own path through an untapped space.

In certain circumstances, and when facing particular challenges, research can act as a method of powerful initiation, the passionate sexual encounter I defined in a previous blog. However, in other situations research can counter-effect the power of pure imagination, ideation and issuing innovation.

I have been fortunate to shape academic programs dedicated to exploration of imagination and ideas, these igniting powerful, meaningful and often deep personal stories expressing the inner soul, or inspiring unique original concept designs that probe not just what is but what could be. In all such I strive to shape a system that will challenge the students to take risks, to probe, to test, to experiment, to find themselves, to discover what make them unique, who they truly are deep inside, not on the outside. I challenge them to expose themselves, not physically but spiritually. I call upon them to “take the condom off their head”, have an unsafe idea, for life is too short and precious for following in someone else’s steps, make your own path through an untapped space.

To magnify the impact of such a methodology, I design my programs to be global. This I do by inviting artists, scholars, festival directors, producers and others, coming from around the world. They represent ideological, cultural, political, social or economic differences, colors and contrasts. If choreographed correctly, when they represent opposing ideas and points of view, they trigger an intellectual discourse that result in a milieu in which we do not teach but instead we challenge students to listen to these dissimilar and distinct perspectives and then make up their own minds about which works for them, which strikes them as truth they wish to probe and explore further. Thus I have concluded that it is all about learning and not teaching, for each individual knows best how s/he learns most effectively, what is best for them as the unique personalities, beings that they are. Who are we to tell them how to think, how to be creative, what to do in their life?

When fortunate, I do so by spearheading new academic or creative initiative and projects. Other times, I do this via creative workshops that offer more intense brainstorming, challenging status quo, liberating from the ways academia can instill routine and comfort instead of challenging and probing one’s identity, values, assumption and perception. It’s not about getting a piece of paper, getting all the passing credits necessary to advance for another year. It is about finding yourself, your own mission in your uniquely own life, one to which you are willing to commit your future, energy, passion, drive, the way of being and living. Have I mentioned: “life is too short, not to”.

Two years ago I was invited for, a six months visiting professorship, to a very scholarly university in Istanbul, Turkey. My mission was to awake the creative spirit in students who have dedicated their time and themselves to pursuit of scholarly studies and research of works done by others. And so, not surprisingly, when asked to express themselves, to explore their own thinking, their own feelings, to imagine and express their own stories and innovative ideas that position them as the creators, innovators, imaginators, they exclaimed: What? Us? How? Why? What do you want of us? Then came: how do we do this? We do not know how to use our imagination, be creative!

Challenged by such a unique opportunity, I proceeded to enlighten them why this experience is so vital to their futures. I told them, try it, if you do not like it, at least you tried it. Then, with a clear conscious, you can go back to what you know, what you have been taught to do. But first, try it. The first few weeks were painful for them, and for me. Each assignment forced them to think, reflect, ideate, originate, invent, and express themselves, their unique identity and personality. After 12 challenging and probing exercises, each opening their eyes, minds and understanding, I sent them off to create their own, individual final project. For some it was a short animated film. For others it was a concept design exploring the foreseeable future of diverse facets of entertainment as ignited by interactivity or augmented reality, but mostly by reality and gravity free imagination and, above all else, technological curbs of what can be done right now. Think ahead, I said. Go!

Over the 15 weeks I did not spend any time on “teaching” any software, any tools or methods of how to do whatever it is they had to do in order to realize their projects. And so, when they all came back with amazing short films and concepts exploring the New Media, I was flabbergasted. I was not the only one, for they were amazed with their own feats as well! They did not believe themselves capable of such expression, such imagination, such a talent and such ideas. And so, when asked to tell me, “whether the pain was worth it”, they all, except one, said “thank you”. I could not ask for anything more. What they, and I, “learned” surpassed all our expectations. So what is the motto of this story? Do not waste time on teaching tools, but instead empower self-discovery. Once these young people graduate, they will rarely have another opportunity and/or freedom to explore, take risks and find their own identity, find themselves, their mission in life.

As I had mentioned at the outset of this segment, such concepts are not for artists alone. These values, as is the power of imagination itself, are applicable to everything and everyone. They are “the matter of which the future is made”. Imagination is the source, magic potion igniting ideas, inspiration, innovation and invention. And, if you don’t believe me, remember what Albert Einstein proclaimed; “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. I wonder why the world of academia so often forgets this simple and yet so crucial and mighty a truth? This truth shaped its author’s amazing career, inspired him to imagine the ways of the distant universe, outcomes which defied all that humanity knew till then. Feel free not to listen to me, but listen to the Man.

Unfortunately, as the world shrinks, and those on it find themselves needing to compete for jobs, more and more focus, effort and time is being funneled to “teaching” skills, science, math, making the grades, to compete, to graduate and to get a job. Costs of education rise with an accelerated speed. Parents feel the need to invest in their children. Hence they expect returns on their investment into the saving draining academia. In turn, kids feel the pressure to perform and to succeed, to make good on returns for the investment being made into their education and their future. Thus it all turns into a vicious circle. As a result, academia often produces what I call “human tools”. Yes, some of them are ambitious, some are even brilliant. They get employment, many succeed and embark on life, and some do so without even having the opportunities I speak of.

I do not claim to have the answer to it all. I do not claim that I am right and they are wrong. All I claim is that life is too short for speeding through if without a time to reflect and ask: who am I? According to me, we are all born with naturally instilled imagination, into all of us. Sadly, for the most of us, due to the factors I had already elaborated on, this imagination fall into hibernation. My role, my mission in the current life, is to awaken it, and then to cultivate it in those I mentor, present to, do creative workshops with or encounter, or collaborate with, or brainstorm with, or simply get together with over a drink or a juicy, meaningful, through provoking discourse, one that will challenge me, make me think and reflect. I hope that this blog will do this for you too.