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Imagination Workshops and the World at Large: Part 6

Final reflections on how society has a critical need for igniting and cultivating imagination as the origin of all ideation, inspiration, invention and innovation.

Reassessing assignments created by undergraduate art students at the Californian University versus those of the graduate students at the University in China, ensuing thoughts arouse. Both were under great pressures due to demands of other required classes. Yet Chinese students not once complained of the burden. Californian ones did. The class in China was offered at the graduate level, Californian one was undergraduate. To Chinese students my class epitomized a one-of-a-kind chance for self-discovery and self-expression. Given the openness of the American university system and the range of offerings extended to all students, this was not the case for the Californians. So, while my approach clearly proved totally new, unexpected, original and extremely attractive to them, precisely because of its uniqueness, they likely did not feel as potent a determination to give it their all.

So, the more apparent conclusion would dictate that graduate students are bound to do better than the undergraduates. Yet I do have strong doubts that this is the justification. My inclination, and own experience, indicate to me that this has to do with the compelling hunger and a desire to break out from the invisible binds imposed by the ever present and all-encompassing enemy. Yet considering my experience in Germany, maturity represents an important factor in acquiring a greater and broader view on everything in life. This coming of age in turn contributes to and nourishes advancement as well as growth and development of what we refer to as open minds.

While these took place a while back the workshops I am about to allude to strengthen the theory I offered above. I am talking of synergy between maturity and open mindedness. This series of workshops took place in Berlin. Curiously enough, they were conducted at the very studio where the original stunning “Metropolis” was filmed. But I was even more shocked to learn that the building in which my workshops were taking place used to act as headquarters for one of the principal leaders of the Nazi party. And here I was. Given my history, I found this absolutely preposterous.

This series of workshops, and the word series is an important factor, was offered to a gathering of assorted film and time-based media professionals. They were of varied ages but all practicing in the real world. My mission was to expose them to what I coined as “metamorphic storytelling.”

This was my first time in Germany and I admit to feeling very dubious about coming to the very country that brought to existence Nazism, and lead to the Holocaust, one of, if not the darkest page in human history. As one whose earlier family was decimated by their hateful actions, I did have mixed feelings about accepting this invitation. Yet how could I consider myself an open minded individual if I did not. After all, this extended an opportunity for direct discussion with those who grew up under the gruesome shadow of their horrific history. How could I refuse such a chance?

Without plunging into very interesting discussions had while there, I only wish to mention being taken to see the synagogue in which the stain glass windows were created using glass shards preserved from the Kristallnacht. It was sobering to see the entrance being guarded by police.

As for the workshop participants, they were mature, eager and open minded. This experience, spanning over two weeks, proved to be extremely rewarding for all of us. For me also in ways that span beyond my mentoring but into my own learning. Now from the evaluation of time and in the context of many other workshops conducted elsewhere, several of them mentioned in this blog, it reconfirms to me yet again that the context within which we grow up impacts deeply on our outlook, ideas and span of our open minds, as well as our willingness to have them opened.

Wishing to conclude on an exciting note, I am going to reflect upon last year’s workshops in Cuba. The schedule was truly gruelingly intensive. We met every day for reviews and critiques. Each day ended with additional assignments. Participants of these three week workshops came from Latin America. They were not students but young art, film and animation professionals who have, over time, grown dissolutioned with working for clients, being given a predefined assignment and told what and how to realize it. They concluded that such production life has restricted their own creative mind, grounded their imagination, drained their young spirits, passion and ideas away.

Therefore they came, to reignite and rejuvenate their imagination, ideation and opportunities to rediscover themselves for who they truly are, and to reconfirm their creative talents. I never saw such committed, driven, fervent and hard-working people. After each session, after the critique they were exposed to, it originating not just from me but, by workshop’s design, also from each other, off they went to think and to work for the rest of the day refining their assignments and, over a drink or two, remained there into the night. Whenever I enquired whether I am being too hard and too demanding of them, they waived their hands exclaiming: “no, No, NO, this is what we came here for. This is what we need! This is what we want!” What more could one ask for? By the last week of the three weeks workshops they unanimously started to call me their Yoda.

Their enemy was not political, economic or even physical, but mental and internal. Such an enemy within is as dangerous, if not more so, than an external one. It can eat you up from within till you find yourself against a wall, probing, is this worth it, do I fight it, or do I resign myself to it?

Unlike these special individuals, and the brave students who dived to the “gravity free & reality independent” space I unveiled for them, over my extended production, creative and academic careers, I encountered many others who have given in and accepted the status quo, resigning themselves to the realities at a cost of their independent spirit, their passion, their dreams and hopes, even the very ideals which epitomize who they truly are. Many have earned apt living by doing so. Yet life, at last as we know it, is very brief, fleeting and unpredictable. I deem that in exchange for this extraordinary experience, while we are alive, able and fired up, we owe it all.

Concluding this reflection, while thinking aloud, I am arriving at the following resolution. I believe that the “gravity free & reality independent” ideation and perspectives my Imagination Workshops unveil act as a portal to probable new possibilities, opportunities and “un-realities” that must be explored in order to distil our own individuality. Learning, growing up, living itself, is all a process designed to help us fine tune our own voice, to intelligently define the mission that will guide and light our path in a consciously chosen live and career. In the process we must face questions, self-doubts and contradictions challenging our assumptions and preconceptions. It is that very route of self-exploration that in turn forces us to probe and in the process crystalize our thinking.

Who said that some pain in life is bad or unhealthy? The very initial moment of arrival in this life was accompanied by incredible pain and outcry. At the very other end most of us, if not all, are likely to experience once again all such emotions, doubts, reflections or regrets as well as fears of the awaiting unknown. Given such a perspective, should we not practice exploring and facing such probing questions along the way and throughout our lives? In order to make a meaningful impact on the world around us we must be willing, dare I say welcome, reflecting upon the whole of our journey, judging impact we are making upon those whose paths we crossed along the way.

For when you have no fear of losing security, stability and comforts of all that is known to you, when you have no enemy, whatever form or shape it may take, whether such foe is outside or within you, why would you rise up and rebel, or spew your anger, express distress, emotional or intellectual upheaval, to challenge the status quo that shaped who you are, or have become?

Why would you freely elect to take such a major risk when the surrounding materialistic and consumerist world of grounded reality is able to provide all the comforts, security, stability while also satisfying many of your wishes, desires and needs, providing you can purchase them?

In my experience, any status quo, whether hellish or heavenly, is deadly to awareness, creative thought, imagination, ideation, self-reflection, unsatisfied inquisitiveness, yearning for discovery, or the very spark that keeps the fire within us bright and ever hungry, lighting our path onwards.

Given a considerable globally diverse experience I concluded that the most effective manner of preserving the fantastical, innocent, unbound, open-minded, silly, and yes, “gravity free & reality independent” child within each of us is by never allowing the reality, rules our society is so full of or its other social pressures, and above all educational systems, dispel and dissipate them away.

Given that too many educational systems stress teaching of practical knowledge, sciences and calculable skills, this at a cost to arts, no wonder our kids imagination falls into hibernation.

Hence all the various universities dedicated to edifying new generations of future teachers must open their minds to embracing inspiring imagination, and thereafter cultivating it, above all else.