a 1933 Master’s Thesis
by Alvina Krause
In his article, “The Relation of Aesthetics to Psychology,”
Bullough calls attention to the fact that the greater part of modern aesthetic research has been directed toward the analysis of the experient’s state of mind as he contemplates a picture, a piece of music, or a poem. Then this eminent British psychologist raises provoking questions. What about the experience that produced the art object? What about the artist? How did he create? Why? What happens when he does create? What is this power called “inspiration”? As if this were not enough to be concerned about, Bullough continues:
“Imagination is such a ubiquitous thing, so essential to the most ordinary business of life that we ought to know a great deal about it. We know something about images, imagery, visual and auditory and motor types; but all this is reproductive imagination. About creative, constructive imagination we hardly know anything of practical use.”
To anyone interested in art, whether as artist, critic, teacher or merely as observer, these questions and comments are challenging. Perhaps the creative process is outside the realm of human comprehension; perhaps there is no adequate explanation to be found for the supreme artistry of a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, an Eleonora Duse. It may be that Bullough’s questions will long be unanswered; but with each investigation, some aspect of the problem of artistic activity may be clarified, or the way may be made more apparent for future research. Even though, in the end, it should be necessary to admit that the ancient philosophers were right who said that the artist’s inspiration came from a power outside himself beyond human comprehension, still human effort may make available knowledge of how this God-given power may work more effectively, or how it may be fostered, nourished and brought to fruition.
The present study was undertaken with the hope of gaining further information on the process of creative activity through an experimental investigation. In the course of preliminary reading, the writer became interested in previous studies that had been made in this field, and it was thought wise to assemble this material in such form that it would be readily available for future reference. Therefore this thesis resolved itself into two parts: Part One, an historical survey of work already done in this field, both theoretical and experimental; Part Two, an experimental study.
CLASSIC AND MEDIAEVAL THEORIES
- Plato and Aristotle
Most of the material dealing with the subject of creative imagination is theoretical. After all, the methods of the empirical psychologist are a recent trend, whereas the subject itself has invited speculation from artist, philosopher and critic throughout the centuries. Here is a power to marvel at, to conjecture about, and finally to investigate scientifically. Further, this theoretical material has been concerned chiefly with the source of creative activity, rather than with the actual process of creation. To anyone who has felt the power and wonder of the art of ancient civilizations, it seems natural enough that the first question asked by the classic philosophers should have been, “From whence comes this strange power?”
It is interesting to note that in defining the term “create,” Webster first applies it to a divine capacity: “Create. To bring into being; to cause to exist; said especially of the divine fiat by which the world is regarded as brought into being out of nothing.”
l And then, farther on, comes the human application: “To produce as a work of thought or imagination.”
Somewhat similarly in the early theories of imagination, creative power was first ascribed to a Supreme Being only, and when it was exhibited in the works of man it was regarded as God-given. This theory of divine origin is one of the most persistent, recurring repeatedly through the ages. Plato is credited with being the originator of this idea, although his name is just as frequently linked with the conception that the poet if he is to be truly creative must be “furious” or “mad.” In support of this latter theory are certain lines in the dialogue “Ion,” in which the Platonic Socrates says,
“For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him; when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter oracles.”
Divine inspiration and poetic madness are usually regarded as two separate theories or dogmas.
in his comprehensive book, The Theory of Imagination in Classical and Mediaeval Thought, has shown how the second principle was an outgrowth, a corollary, of the first. He shows that in his early philosophy Plato conceived the function of art to be the rendering of an imitation of the thing.
Only a god could create an image or a portrait which would reproduce internal as well as external qualities. God alone could create the true form of things. At this point in his philosophy, it is evident that Plato did not hold an exalted view of imagination as it was used in the fine arts, for its aim was merely to reproduce the material object; it had nothing to do with ideas, the object of Reason. God creates in the highest sense when he brings into being the idea; an artisan creates the material thing which is only an image of the higher Idea; the artist reproduces the material things -- he is a maker of appearances “thrice removed from the king and from truth.” And so, in Plato’s ideal state, poets and painters are to have no place. But later Plato became interested, not only in the thought concerned with ideas, but in that which was bound up with sense-opinions which have taken sensible shape. He came to recognize the importance of phantasy in the most ideal thought and in the highest creative art. So, for him, the terms “imitation” and “image-making” lost their close connection with the reality of material things, and came under the general term “creative art.”
Here Plato distinguished between two kinds of creation, human and divine. The latter he divided into two classes: first, divine creative activity -- the making of the universe; second, the making of images corresponding to the elements of the universe -- phantasms. In Plato’s philosophy God has the capacity for creating phantasms in the minds of men in dreams and in waking visions. This he regarded as “divine phantasy” or “divine phantastic imitation.” Its result is the inspiration of poet and prophet. In such a philosophy man is a passive recipient of impressions from above. Inspiration is not so much an activity on the part of an individual as a condition of receptivity. It is not even implied that the vision will be comprehended through the highest intellectual powers; the inspired man is not necessarily the wisest. The gift of insight is given to the simple whose minds have become fit receptacles for divine communications.
Still later Plato reached the conclusion that this vision is not a natural process, but the result of madness. The souls with the greatest power of vision are those which, seeing physical beauty, rise to the remembrance of the heavenly beauty, divinely communicated in dreams or reverie. Their madness lies in their inability to perceive the reason for the connection between earthly copy and the heavenly vision. Plato says:
“But all souls do not easily recall the things of the other world . . . Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them; and they, when they behold here any image of that other world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive.”
This is the origin of the theory which for many centuries has influenced thought and investigation of the creative process, and, as a modern investigator has said, “the end is not yet.”
The same theorist says with regard to divine inspiration:
“Our reiteration that the poet has “ridden Pegasus”, has drunk at the “Springs of Helicon”, has slept in Mount Parnassus . . . involves virtual admission that in more than twenty centuries we have not advanced as much as could be desired in our knowledge of the poetic mind.”
It has been seen that Plato departed from his early theory of art as imitation of reality. Aristotle, in almost direct opposition, held to this doctrine and developed it. For him drama and poetry were the results of man’s imitative instincts. He says:
“Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes, each of them lying deep in our nature. First, the instinct of limitation is implanted in man from childhood, one difference between him and other animals being that he is the most imitative of living creatures.”
Of divine origin, Aristotle says, “The theory of divine origin is absurd, because in addition to its [unreasonableness] one observes that these dreams to not come to the best and wisest, but to all sorts of men.”
contrasts the views of Aristotle, the realist, with those of Plato, the idealist. Aristotle assumed the reality of the world of the senses, and from this world came the subject matter of art as well as its means of expression. Plato sought an explanation of the miraculous in art by ascribing it to a Supreme Power; Aristotle sought to establish a relationship between the miraculous and the material world known through the senses. Aristotle always assumed that there might be a natural reality corresponding to the artist’s phantasm. Dreams and visions rise out of sensations.
It is hardly correct to infer that for Aristotle, artistic creation was merely a power of copying nature.
His belief was that the artist achieves the universal through the particular and that the imitation of nature may be idea, or creative, as it succeeds in portraying the universal. The poet had not merely a power of reproducing a particular experience, but he had the power of seeing in particular instances, a universal concept which it was his function to reproduce.
Butcher interprets Aristotle’s theory in this manner:
“The artist may imitate things ‘as they ought to be’: he may place before him an unrealized ideal. We see at once that there is no question here of bare imitation, of a literal transcript of reality.”
Further, he says:
“A work of art reproduces its original not as it is in itself, but as it appears to the senses. Art addresses itself not to the abstract reason but to the sensibility and image-making faculty; it is concerned with outward appearances; it employs illusions; its world is not that which is revealed by pure thought; it sees truth, but in its concrete manifestations not as an abstract idea.”
Here one needs to consider what Aristotle says of the use of the marvelous or the wonderful in tragedy, a statement which is in itself an indication that for him his imitation was not merely reproductive.
“The element of the wonderful is admitted in Tragedy . . . Now the wonderful is pleasing: as may be inferred from the fact that, in telling a story, everyone adds something startling of his own, knowing that his hearers like it. It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.”
Imitation generally is associated with a lack of creative freedom, and, as Butcher indicates, the word as passed on from Plato to Aristotle was already “tinged by some such disparaging associations.”
But Aristotle gave the term a new interpretation. Butcher summarizes the Aristotelian conception:
“Art, therefore, in imitating the universal imitates the ideal, and we can now describe a work of art as an idealized representation of human life -- of character, emotion, action -- under form manifest to sense.
“ ‘Imitation’ in the sense in which Aristotle applies the word to poetry is thus seen to be equivalent to ‘producing’ or ‘creating’ according to a true idea, which forms part of the definition of art in general.”
In the theories of divine origin and imitation, two opposing views are evident. In one case, the source of creative power is divine; in the other case it is a human capacity. In neither philosophy is there apparent any sign of a conception of imagination which colors the material of art with stuff from the artist’s own mind.
- Post-Aristotelian Theories
For six centuries following Aristotle there was little advancement in the theory of imagination in the creative arts. The Stoics added little of constructive value. They were chiefly concerned with the dangers of imagination and with the relation of phantasy to ethics.
In the first century A.D. Longinus, in the field of rhetoric, gave some attention to the matter of imagery. According to his conception, phantasy was a capacity for the vivid presentation of imagery. It was reproductive, and consequently not a creative function. He says,
“Images, moreover, contribute greatly, my young friend, to dignity, elevation, and power as a pleader. In this sense some call them representations. In a general way the name of image or imagination is applied to every idea of the mind, in whatever form it presents itself, which give birth to speech. But at the present day the word is predominantly used in cases where, carried away by enthusiasm and passion, you think you see what you describe, and you place it before the eyes of your hearers.”
Longinus goes to the poets for his examples of phantasy, but he distinguishes between the poetical use of images and the rhetorical, holding that the design of the poetical is enthrallment, and of the rhetorical is vivid description. He writes:
“It is no doubt true that those which are found in the poets contain, as I said, a tendency to exaggeration in the way of the fabulous and that they transcend in every way the credible; but in oratorical imagery the best feature is always its reality and truth.”
Longinus made no great contribution to the theory of imagination, but he did acknowledge the value of imagery to the creation of the sublime in thought; and by granting poets the privilege of exaggeration in the use of images he indicated a tendency for imagination to break with strict imitation.
A new contribution came from Philostratus (170-245 A.D.) which was important, although he developed the idea only slightly. He was interested in exposing the fallacy of a material notion of imitation. He argues thus: a man sees pictures in the clouds; the material for these pictures exists in the heavens quite by chance; the imitative mind rearranges them conceiving them as animals. Here is an idea of imagination not merely as copying but as a kind of conception. Imitation, according to this theory is not merely the representation of reality through physical means, but the mind’s capacity to calling up or creating likenesses of reality; in other words, a conception of imagination very similar to the modern one. This process of combining and re-combining the material of the senses suggests a freedom, a productive function, which was later implied when the term “creative imagination” actually came into being.
Imagination is now a conceptual power, not a lofty one, for Reason is the dominant capacity in these philosophies, but it is no longer merely a synonym for image-making and imitation. The mind, through a power of its own, can use the material of the senses creatively to fashion the new.
- Mediaeval Theories
Although imagination had been established as a conceptual power with creative capacity, it received a set-back in the “faculty” psychology of the Middle Ages, for it was made a power very definitely subservient to reason.
The “faculty” psychologists assigned each mental power to its proper cell or ventricle in the head according to its function. Imagination was located in the front cell where sensations meet, and its work was the forming of mental images necessary for thought. The images produced in this first cell were handed over to the powers located in the central cavity, the home of reason. The idea formed here were passed on to a power residing in the back of the head, memory, which was the storehouse of ideas rather than images. As a result of this theory there was a tendency to ignore the part imagination played in the higher processes of thought. By being enclosed in a cell by itself imagination lost its contact with ideas.
For the most part the thinkers of the Middle Ages were trying to synthesize the theories of Aristotle, the realist, and Plato, the idealist. This synthesis, however, was not completed until Dante arrived with his theory of poetry, which was also his account of the function of imagination. Dante’s Via Nuova presents simple visual and auditory images, products of the primary faculty of imagination. These closely resemble the material objects which called them forth, according to the Aristotelian doctrine of imitation. Because of his sensibilities the poet went through powerful emotional experiences until external vision became glorified inner vision of heavenly beauty. (Plato’s conception of inspiration), for the expression of which the poet was forced to resort to allegory or imaginative expression. At first both his emotions and imagination are under the direction of reason, but in the final stage imagination goes on alone. This final step indicates, according to Bundy
, the loftiest conception of imagination these early centuries have contributed.
- Bullough, Edward, “The Relation of Aesthetics to Psychology”, British Journal of Psychology, X. (1919) p. 44
- Ibid., p. 45.
THEORIES OF THE ROMANTICISTS
The term “creative imagination” comes into being following the publication in the Spectator of certain papers by Addison.
He made imagination dependent upon the senses, particularly sight -- a connection which clings to the word even yet. But while Addison restricted the term in one respect, in another he gave it the greatest power it has known up to this point -- the undisputed power of altering and combining images into new forms.
“It is this sense (sight) which furnishes the imagination with ideas; so that by ‘the pleasures of the imagination’ or ‘fancy’ (which I shall use promiscuously) I here mean such as arise from visible objects, either when we call up their ideas into our minds by painting, statues, descriptions or any like occasion. We cannot, indeed, have a single image in the fancy that did not make its first entrance through the sight, but we have the power of retaining, altering, and compounding those images which we have once received, into all the varieties of picture and vision that are agreeable to the imagination: for by this faculty a man in a dungeon is capable of entertaining himself with scenes and landscapes more beautiful than any that can be found in the whole compass of nature.”
Addison makes imagination the “very life and highest perfection of poetry”.
It was probably passages like the following that were responsible for the use of the phrase, “creative imagination.”
“Imagination has something in it like creation. It bestows a kind of existence, and draws up to the reader’s view several objects which are not to be found in being. It makes additions to nature, and gives a greater variety to God’s works.”
Addison makes no effort to explain this creative capacity which has the power of calling up images seen in things past, or of bringing forth to the reader’s eye things unknown. However the “genius” literature of the next century has much to say about this new term.
For the Romanticist’s imagination became practically synonymous with insight; or again it was “Reason in her most exalted mood”; or it was applied to Wordsworth’s faithful communion with Nature.
It is his “Prelude” which best gives Wordworth’s conception of the creative process for, as he says,
“ . . . . .Of genius, power,
Creation and divinity itself
I have been speaking, for my theme has been
What has passed within me.”
In this work, Wordsworth gives expression to his own artistic theories, and, to a large extent, to those of his contemporaries. This passage illustrates the exalted opinion of this group toward imagination.
“This spiritual love acts not nor can exist
Without Imagination, which in truth,
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And Reason in her most exalted mood.”
The outstanding characteristics of imagination in the estimation of these poets were spontaneity, individuality, passion. In this connection one instantly recalls Wordsworth’s definition of poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”
Of this group Coleridge was the one who most strongly expressed the belief that what went on in the individual soul was vital and creative. He found the essence of art in the intimate experiences of the artist himself; images must be colored by passion, or by intellectual fire from the individual poet. With regard to this Coleridge writes:
“It has been before observed that images, however beautiful, though faithfully copied from Nature and as accurately represented in words do not of themselves characterize the poet. They become proof of original genius only so far as they are modified by a predominant passion; or by associated thoughts, or images awakened by that passion, or when they have the effect of reducing multitude to unity, or succession to an instant, or lastly, when a human and intellectual life is transferred to them from the poet’s own spirit.
“Which shoots its being through earth, sea and air.”
Perhaps the essence of this theory is the emphasis upon the point that artistic creation is not merely a record of external detail, as the early philosophies would have it, but rather it is a record of the whole world of feeling which arises in the individual artist. Although the Romanticists departed from the classic tradition on this point, they enthusiastically reiterated Plato’s doctrine of divine origin. Wordsworth acknowledges this source of inspiration again and again,
but it is Shelley who most uncompromisingly of all the Romanticists recognizes the “divine end unapprehended” manner in which the creative spirit acts “beyond and above consciousness.”
Further, he says,
“Poetry is indeed something divine . . . Poetry is not like reasoning, a power to be exerted to the determination of the will. A man cannot say, “I will compose poetry”. The greatest poet even cannot say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within like the color of a flower which fades and changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions of our nature are unprophetic either of its approach or its departure. Could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the results; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline, and the most glorious poetry is probably a feeble shadow of the original conception of the poet . . . the instinct and intuition of the poetic faculty is still more observable in the plastic and pictorial arts: a great statue or pictures grows under the power of the artist as a child in the mother’s womb; and the very mind which directs the hands in formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the origin, the gradations, or the media of the process.”
The poets of this period made no attempt to explain rationally the nature of inspiration; so, for the time being, no advancement has been made in this conception over that offered by the ancient Greeks.
In this connection Prescott says,
“The Greek poet produced, by processes of which he was largely unconscious, poetry which was felt to contain beauty and truth of the highest value. This production was clearly beyond anything of which his ordinary mind was capable. As elsewhere in his mythology, a power, hidden yet beneficent, within himself he made objective, personified, and called the God or the muse. In the same way the modern poet, Wordsworth, finds himself gifted with a faculty higher and more creative than that of his conscious mind. He dares not attribute it to himself. By a myth-making, or as we now must call it, a poetic exercise of his mind, he conceives of it as proceeding from a prophetic spirit, having the gift of genuine insight, whom he doubtless identifies with the divinity of his modern religion. His conception is that of the Greek, except that it is elevated and refined by all the intervening growth of poetic and religious thought.”
With regard to imagination as a particular faculty in the creative process. Wordsworth and his contemporaries made little contribution to the comprehension of the term by their endless discussions as to the distinction between the imagination and fancy. Probably they made the meaning more obscure. Leigh Hunt, while he added nothing new to the theories of his time, probably clarified the attempts at definition as much as was possible. A brief quotation may suffice to indicate the trend of these discursive papers on imagination and fancy.
“The terms were formerly identical, or used as such; and neither is the best that might be found. The term Imagination is to confined; often too material. It presents too invariably the idea of a solid body -- of ‘images’ in the sense of the plaster-cast cry about the streets. Fancy, on the other hand, while it means nothing but a spiritual image or apparition . . . has rarely that freedom from visibility which is one of the highest privileges of imagination.”
In reviewing this period it is to be noted that the emphasis falls on the following points: the creative faculty receives its inspiration from a divine source; it is synonymous with insight or intuition; for its most complete expression it is dependent on the independent passion and the emotional intensity of the artist; and it is elevated to the position of “Reason in her most exalted mood”, transcending both the remembered and the created visualization of Addison.
MODERN THEORIES AND INVESTIGATIONS
- THEORETICAL EXPLORATIONS
Up to this point, insight into the nature of artistic creation has been derived chiefly from the theories of philosophers and artists. But within the last few decades the study of creative imagination has become a recognized field for psychology. Analytical and statistical methods, while they have not yet made available satisfactory quantitative measurements of factors involved in the process, are being used as bases for theoretical explorations. As has been seen, there has always been profound interest in the subject of how and why the artist creates, even before science attempted to isolate elements of the process to examine them by exact methods. These methods are a recent development.
In 1880 Galton aroused interest in the image and imagery by his questionnaire.
He also made the first significant qualitative and comparative examinations of the data on the genesis and constitution of men of genius.
At about the same time Fechner was applying laboratory methods to the study of aesthetic principles.
The inauguration of the use of the statistical, and experimental methods for studies of this sort was of great significance, for it pointed the way for investigations of other mental processes. Galton’s work was followed by extensive investigations of the image and imagery. While these problems threw little light on the creative process, they did indicate methods that might be followed in studying creative imagination and indicated the general trend of such studies. Such application of scientific methods is still too recent to have yielded results of far reaching significance; but it has influenced even the theoretical discussion of the subject until now these theories are based pretty largely on psychological principles.
That the actual study of creative imagination is a recent development is seen by this statement written in 1900 in the preface of Ribot’s “Essay on the Creative Imagination:”
Contemporary psychology has studied the purely reproductive imagination with great eagerness and success . . . The study of the creative or constructive imagination, on the other hand, has been almost entirely neglected. It would be easy to show that the best, most complete, and most recent treatises on psychology devote to it scarcely a page or two; often, indeed do not mention it. A few articles, a few brief, scarce monographs, make up the sum of the past twenty-five years’ work on the subject.”
This book of Ribot’s is the first work of importance dealing with the subject from the viewpoint of a psychologist. It marks the beginning of the attempts to explain psychological this process which had been obscured by so many centuries of mystical speculation and aesthetic theorizing.
The principles discussed by Ribot have been taken as points of departure by other writers, as will be seen. He starts with the conception that the basis of the creative imagination is a motor impulse.
“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 became grouped in new combinations.
The last part of this theory will be considered later.
This motor theory of Ribot’s forms the basic principle of Lewis’s book, Creative Poetry. He starts with the assumption that the “creative impulse is wholly human and biological and not superhuman.” He goes on to show that it is the result of the “organic functioning of the human organism.”
“The living conduct, then, of the human organism is instinctively that of motor expression to every incoming sensory impression; that is, for every sensory impression coming into the neural centers there is a corresponding and complemental expression in terms of outward muscular action or objective conduct.”
He then explains that failure to consummate outgoing motor expression results in experiencing an emotion, and this brings him to Ribot’s conclusion that “the emotion is the ferment without which no creation is possible.
More definitely stated, Ribot’s theory is: 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.”
Prescott applies this same principle to the creative mind in its production of poetry. He writes, “The desires are the fundamental motives standing at the beginning of the creative processes. These, when impeded, arouse emotions . . . the passion which poetry always implies.”
One more quotation will suffice to show the prevalence in contemporary theories, of the idea that the desires are the motivating force for the creation of art. Miss Puffer writes:
“In the instance of the creative poet’s mind, the emotion resulting from his inability to express himself to the full not infrequently becomes so intense -- the poet is always essentially emotional -- that he may actually achieve the point where he loses his sense of personality -- It is this degree of intensity, and heightened and sustained motion that, our psychologists would have us understand, differentiates the creative mind from the ordinary mind.”
From consideration of the emotional factor Ribot goes to the unconscious factor, the involuntary coming of the idea, that “moment of genius” which often marks the end of an unconscious elaboration of the idea or the beginning of conscious elaboration. In the final analysis, Ribot concludes:
“. . . inspiration is the result of an underhand process existing in men, in some to a very great degree. The nature of this work being unknown, we can conclude nothing as to the ultimate nature of inspiration. On value of the phenomenon in invention, all the more as we are inclined to overvalue it. We should, indeed, note that inspiration is not a cause but an effect -- more exactly a moment, a crisis, a critical stage; it is an index.”
This unconscious factor has had much attention in the psychological analyses of the present period. It has usurped the position formerly head by the theory of divine origin. Plato allowed his poets to create their work unconsciously, but urged and inspired by the divinity itself speaking through them. The modern psychologist regards the conception of divinity as merely a figurative expression for a deeply hidden faculty which is projected and made evident through imagination. His problem has been to rationalize this theory which divine origin has suggested.
For Prescott the “inspired moment” is only the visible stage in an operation which has been proceeding unconsciously for periods of different lengths.
“The inspiration, when it comes may come suddenly, and be soon over; but it is not to be depreciated because momentary and fleeting. This moment is only the crisis in a long process; behind it is presumably an incubation, and behind that an earlier preparation. Early experiences, emotionally colored, are sources of later poetical moments, repeating the emotion; and ‘feeling comes in aid of feeling.’ Thus the great poet must be one who has had a full and fortunate life, -- and particularly a rich and favorable emotional development in childhood and youth.”
Prescott’s theory of inspiration is based on that of Myers whom he quotes:
“Genius . . . should rather be regarded as a power of utilizing a wider range than other men can utilize of faculties in some degree innate in all: -- a power of appropriating the results of subliminal mentation to sub-serve the supraliminal stream of thought, so that an ‘inspiration of genius’ will be in truth’s subliminal uprush, an emergence into the torrent of ideas which he has not consciously originated, but which ideas shaped themselves beyond his will, in profounder regions of his being.”
This theory of Myers has influenced much of the thought on the nature of the creative mind. Most modern treatises contain a similar doctrine or a variation of it. Mary Austin, whose book, “Everyman’s Genius,” is based on introspective comments from people of genius, believes that creation takes place “wholly within the subconscious.”
Her theory of the creative process grows out of her belief that genius is the individual’s capacity for utilizing racial experience which everyone retains latent within him. The artist, then, is one who is best able to tap this racial stream; one who is able to bring racial memories to the plane of consciousness. On this principle, she gives the following steps in the creative process: first, a procreative stir in the deep self, a feeling of “something trying to happen”; there follows a period of incubation, during which processes of free association and ideation go on; then occurs polarization or the coming together of various elements, the arrangement of these elements in their proper relation; and last of all, conscious work.
Miss June Downey, whose book, Creative Imagination, indicates how laboratory methods and scientific investigations may be used for the better understanding of the creative process, refers to the unconscious as the “spring of the creating stream.”
She expresses her theory in this way: “One of the special capacities of the imaginative mind is its memory for emotional and mental subtleties which the average man may experience but straightaway forgets.”
Miss Downey’s book brings up another topic which recurs frequently in the modern literature on this subject -- dreams and reverie. For her from “day dreaming to verse or story-writing is but a step.”
She adds, however:
“But art as a means of resolution of conflict or of compensatory activity demands very fundamental gifts such as sensitiveness to a particular kind of sense-material (visual, auditory or tactile-motor) and skill in some form of overt activity such as drawing, modeling, bowing and fingering musical instruments, or vocalization.”
Of all the modern theories, it is Prescott’s which places most stress on the part that dreams play in the art process. In fact he bases his whole conception on the artist’s power to dream. He differs from Ribot, who finds “voluntary mental activity analogous to creative activity.”
Prescott holds that mind in its ordinary meaning belongs to men of science and business, while the creative mind is achieved only by surrendering to the subconscious stream of imagery. Art is produced by a mental operation different from that which produces scientific truth. The latter is produced by voluntary thought; art is the product of associative thinking.
While most modern thought recognizes the part dreams play in artistic efforts, still few theories go as far as Prescott’s in making scientific and artistic truth produced by different processes. Ribot makes the processes identical; Hirsh, in his theory of creative intelligence makes this distinction:
“In artistic genius the ‘intuition,’ the inspirational idea, the erupting gleam, first flashes, followed by critical intellective work of improving, revising, adding, subtracting. In scientific genius the intellective work comes first; the collection of material, its ordering, analysis, and correlation or lack of correlation with other material. Then comes the illumination, the radiant glow that translates an incongruence of hypotheses and a multiplicity of facts into a harmonious unified system of occurrences portraying one order or one law.”
These are differences in theory which only further investigation of subliminal mentation can decide. An entirely different approach to the problem of creativity is made by a British psychologist. Spearman, interpreting ‘creative imagination’ as meaning creation by means of images, dismisses the term on the ground that, “In not one single kind of performance, so far, have imageful persons shown any superiority over imageless.”
He explains mental creativity by finding for it a place among “the basal and ultimate powers of knowing.”
The first of these, “A person tends to know his own sensations, feelings and strivings”
is creative only in the lowest degree for such knowledge does no more than “imitate what was already existent.”
the next law, “When two or more items (percepts or ideas) are given, a person may perceive them to be in various ways related.”
Spearman holds these may be creative in the second degree since “ideal” relations may have no real existence, in which case they are created by the mind. The third principle, ‘When any item, and a relation to it are present to mind, then the mind can generate in itself another item so related.
is creative in the third degree, and Spearman ventures the proposition “with some confidence that this degree of creativeness is the utmost to which the human mind can under any conditions possibly attain.
Spearman gives his theory the name, “Noegenesis,” which he explains thus:
“. . . this name represents a whole revolutionary doctrine of psychology. The second part of the name, “genesis,” is intended to indicate that the three processes described i the preceding chapter possess just the virtue here concerned, that of generating new mental content. The first part of the name, on the other hand, is from the Greek ‘Nous,’ and indicates that these same three processes have the further virtue, formerly ascribed to some ill-defined power called ‘intelligence’ of attaining belief on adequate grounds. For example, to have an experience of pain is adequate ground for knowing that one has it . . . Such knowledge upon adequate ground is sometimes characterized as ‘insight’, or as ‘intention.’ However labelled, it would appear to constitute the supreme achievement of the human mind; perhaps of mind in general. And in such a manner these two virtues, that of creating and that of insight -- generally taken to be opposite poles -- are in truth absolutely co-incident. This, then, is the doctrine wrapped up in, and proclaimed by, the single word, ‘noegenesis.’”
There are the modern theoretical explorations of the creative process. In concluding this section, one may note that in modern theories the unconscious has usurped the attention formerly given to divine origin; that desires are recognized as the motivating force of creativity; that reverie is recognized as playing an important part in the production of art; that actually little is known, even now, of how the artist creates.
- Psychographic-Biographic Investigations
The foregoing pages have revealed the fact that “inspiration” and “genius” are the terms most often heard in connection with the production of art. This survey also indicates that the questions asked at the outset have thus far remained unanswered: what is inspiration? How does the artist create? The modern trend has developed two types of investigation which are attempting to solve these problems, or at least to throw light upon the subject. These are: the psychographic biography, or the psychological analysis of the intellectual life of artists, in so far as this analysis touches upon the creative power in art; and the experimental, psychological investigations of the main traits in artistic talent and of the process of creation.
The first of these methods is based upon the assumption that information might be secured from the artist himself as to how and why he creates. With this aim in view, various psychologists and others, too, have attempted systematic questioning of artists as to their methods of inspiration, reflection, and work. This method was first used by Binet for his study of the artist Tade Styke. Tade was a nineteen year old painter who was considered an infant prodigy. Binet made minute inquiries concerning Tade’s method of work while he was painting. According to Tade’s answers such facts as these were discovered: he worked with full and complete mental conceptions of a finished picture; it was easier for him to work from memory than from nature; his visual memory was below the average. As to the actual production of works of art, Binet tells little. How the artist “seizes upon what is new and emphasizes it, is not made clear.”
and Conrad Aiken
refer to a somewhat similar investigation by Nicolas Kostyleff and reported in his book, Le Mécanisme cérébral de le pensée. M. Kostyleff interviewed French poets and novelists with regard to their methods of composition. He found that one fact was true of all: “the initial impulse was almost always due to an external stimulus of some sort which effected, in a purely cerebral way, an automatic discharge of verbal associations, not necessarily attended by an excess of emotion.”
M. Kostyleff interprets this as indicating that poetic inspiration has two sources: the sensibilities of the poet, and the preformed mechanisms of verbal reactions.
In this connection M. Kostyleff points out the care poets take “to document themselves, to saturate themselves in the subject matter of their work, and to enrich their verbal associations.”
According to M. Kostyleff’s theory of inspiration such documentation results in the formation of chains of association, which when discharged set off an unravelling of verbal reflexes.
He finds the factor of emotional intensity in the poet, which had been so stressed by the Romanticists, of minor importance; and he points out the fact that the emotional value of the completed poem outweighs the original emotional impulse which is often a slight thing which becomes lost entirely as a poem develops.
Another example of the psychographic-biographic method is a study of Louise Dillingham of The Creative Imagination of Theophile Gautier.
She examined the author’s own writings as “the most direct evidence of motive and method,”
including his non-literary writing and records of conversations kept by his contemporaries; also she has considered personal judgments of friends or disciples, and the discoveries of critics.
Believing that the “determination of the sentiments of the artist is of primary value for the distinguishing of his special traits”
she first studied Gautier’s interests. After analyzing his emotional tendencies, and his sensory equipment, she investigated the correspondence between his disposition and his production and discovered that:
“The influence of his drives to action is noticeable in each genre which he employs and in a measure his literary works are a fulfillment of his desires, the practice corresponds to the theory. There are inconsistencies, nevertheless, and it does not appear that the creative imagination which brings about the finished product is equivalent merely to the intentions of interests of the author.”
She found, too, that Gautier’s emotional tendencies played an important part in the actual construction of his work. His creation of atmosphere, of personages, and of form all show evidence of having their basis in his sentiments.
As to his method of composing and inspiration. Miss Dillingham writes:
“Invention, personal experience, and visual or literary documentation were together at the basis of the great part of his production. He took notes on the pictures which he was to describe, on the scenes which he viewed, and even set down the emotional or intellectual impression which he received from them. In his fictitious and poetic construction the author made use of definite plans, worked out in advance of the actual composition. It may be said that he improvised on a certain inspiration but only when he possessed already a solid foundation of facts, gleaned from various sources and ordered
in a preliminary pattern which soon became definitive.”
This study showed that Gautier’s creative imagination showed a combination of perceptual, affective and conceptual elements. So far as perceptual material was concerned his literary construction his literary construction was based on observations of various kinds. On this phase Miss Dillingham says:
“The imagination of the author is expressed not only in allusions to definite visual objects, but also in phrases which refer to a class of objects, to the ideas which the writer has formed during the course of his observation and reading . . . Here, also affective material enters. Not only do Gautier’s emotional tendencies appear in their influence on colour associations, for example: not only do certain experiences persist in his composition on account of their strong original tone of pleasure or displeasure; but also affective elements may enter autonomously into his composition and the author will express directly as well as indirectly his delight in certain sensations or his dislike of certain situations. . .On the whole, however, it is the perceptual elements which are most notable.”
Unfortunately the artist is not always a good subject for psychological study. Sometimes he is not interested in studying his mental processes, and again he does not see the point of the scientific attitude. Sometimes the fact that he possesses a creative imagination makes one question the validity of his observations on his own mental processes. Therefore these investigations did not yield as much definite information as one might wish, although they are invaluable for checking results arrived at in other ways. A variation of the psychographic-biographic method, but one which does not depend upon direct questioning of the artist, is this one in which John Livingston Lowes
almost recreates the process of creation.
From a study of Coleridge’s notebook, with its references and cross-references to the books which the poet had read, Lowes traces line by line, almost phrase by phrase, the creation of “The Ancient Mariner” and “The Road to Xanadu.” Of Mr. Lowes’ book, Miss Downey wrote:
“It is this creative synthesis of which Lowes give us an incomparable picture in his Road to Xanadu, a road which is for him a symbol of the imagination ‘voyaging through chaos and reducing it to clarity and order.’ Images interlocking through multitudinous associations and coalescing through magical identities, musical words shadowing and haloing these images, all unwinding with precision of a chain of reflexes -- so runs the story. Given Coleridge’s miraculous memory, his ‘optical spectra’ (eidetic images), his flair for words, his active intellect applying curb and rudder to the ‘streaming associations’ and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is as nearly accounted for as any creation can be.”
Lowes contends that “the imagination works its wonders through the exercise, in the main of normal and intelligible powers.”
He shows first that the poet must see beauty beneath prosaic facts.
“Coleridge . . . read with an eye which habitually pierced to the secret spring of poetry beneath the crust of fact. and this means that items or details the most unlikely might, through some potentiality discovered or divined, find lodgement in his memory.”
This faculty Lowes designates “vision.” He re-traces Coleridge’s reading and shows how these poetic details lodged in the poet’s memory to reappear later fused with other details in the unconscious. This fusion is the second step in the process of creation, which Lowes describes thus:
“But the inscrutable energy of genius which we call creative, owes its secret virtue at least in part to the enhanced and almost incredible facility with which in the wonder-working depths of the unconscious the fragments which sink incessantly below the surface fuse and assimilate and coalesce.”
The final step in the creative process, according to Lowes, is the shaping of this material, the giving of Form to a mass of detail. This, too, is the work of imagination which “curbs and rudders the clustering associations”
and makes of them a unity which is beauty. The factors which interplay in this process, Lowes designates as: the Well, the Vision, and the Will.
but while they are “normal and intelligible,” they are not ordinary. Lowes finds that:
“Creative genius, in plainer terms, works through processes which are common in our kind, but these are superlatively enhanced. The subliminal agencies are endowed with an extraordinary potency; the faculty which conceives and executes operates with sovereign power, and the two blend in untrammeled interplay . . . in genius of the highest order, that sudden incalculable, and puissant energy which pours up from the hidden depths is controlled by a will which serves a vision -- the vision which sees in chaos the potentiality of Form.”
Lowes, through his method of tracing to its source each line of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” has distinguished three stages in the process of creation. The first is in the realm of conscious fixing of attention on some particular field and accumulating material; the second, and apparently the important stage, is that in which the accumulated material sinks into the realm of the subliminal self, and is modified and combined anew; the third stage is again a conscious act -- that of shaping into a unified whole the modified material which some spark of inspiration calls up from the unconscious.
This study which Lowes has made of the road which Coleridge’s imagination travelled, interesting and thorough as it is, seems to point the fact that much more will need to be known of the “subliminal self,” and of what goes on in the “wonderworking depths of the unconscious” before the creative process can be understood.
- Experimental Studies
The experimental investigations of creative imagination are few in number. Gregor Paulsson
describes the work of the pioneers in this field Meumann and Albien. Meumann’s studies deal with the cause of deficient talent for drawing and with the existence of different types of talent. He asked his subjects to make drawings from memory and to explain the difficulties they encountered in the process. He concluded that it was necessary to have the will and power of analytical observation and a good memory for form and color. He distinguished between errors of innate capacity and errors of practice. For the process of drawing he stressed the nativity of the visual sense organs, the activity of the hand, and he drew up a program for investigating these processes. To the optical part of drawing he referred, visual perception. acuteness of measuring distance, eye movements and similar processes. To the motor factor he referred to the steady grasp on the visual material while drawing, the government of the hand by the visual image and motor memory. As apperceptive processes he dealt with “artistic” vision, i.e. the discovery of aesthetically effective traits in the subject, and the ability for stressing such details.
Meumann and Albien worked together to discover whether a drawing was merely an unreflected reproduction of visual imagery, or whether a constructive comprehension and analysis of the various lines was necessary. They conducted experiments in the copying of linear drawings which were complicated in construction and without any resemblance to well-known figures, although they were optically simple. The results of these experiments showed that drawing without analysis and constructive observation was absolutely impossible.
Meumann in collaboration with Maillard and Jacobsson in 1912 carried out another series of experiments intended partly to define more clearly the various types, and partly to gain information concerning the methods of different persons when drawing and the influence of partial elements in drawing. Simple stimuli were exposed at various sittings of varied duration. Afterwards these stimuli were drawn by the subjects from memory. These investigations revealed nine typical forms, one of them being designated as the “artistic” type. The work of this class was marked by an instinctive bent for treating the subject in an artistic manner, thereby endeavoring to pick out is specially aesthetic aspects.
Such was the early experimental work in the study of the creative process. In 1923 Gregor Paulsson published the results of an experimental investigation which he based on these principles:
“Artistic work consists, as stated above, of various stages from the conception to the final execution, which is more or less a matter of craftsmanship. It is now possible to analyze these stages and if necessary to subdivide them further, and in this way to obtain both a deep and extensive insight into the process of artistic creation . . . One must restrict one’s self to the more important elements in the creative process, to the stages in which it emerges in its purest form, and in which the above mentioned union of imagination and execution exhibits the closest cooperation. This will exhibit most clearly the genesis and nature of the artistic idea: the relation between individual experience and the motif and the work of art; and the nature of the effort of creation. The further the creative process advances toward the completed work of art, the more do purely intellectual elements intrude.”
Paulsson’s investigation consisted of experiments in the free production of paintings and drawings. His procedure consisted chiefly in presenting by means of the tachistoscope a series of ink blots and motifs, mostly in black and white, but some in color. In order to eliminate traces of personal style in making the motifs he used a pointed folded paper instead of a pen or brush. These were presented to artistic and non-artistic subjects with the instructions to draw, after a brief exposure, those motifs which interested them. Detailed introspection was taken during the process. The conclusions reached were that artists and those engaged in related work drew more of the designs and gave evidence of far greater comprehension; the drawings and the interpretations of the non-artistic subjects were characterized by occupational bias and interest.
Of his results Paulsson says, in analyzing the causes of artistic creation:
“We have now discovered that the outstanding phenomena in our analysis of the causes of artistic activity are, on the one hand, a decided distinction between the productive and the receptive attitude; and on the other hand, the fact that production only takes place where the possibility of representing definite meanings, such as are characteristic of every individual, is created through the recognition of indications of these meanings in the motif. These meanings are usually definite as regards their visual ‘structure.’ The difference between the redemptive and the productive attitude in regard to artistic or aesthetic meanings is characterized primarily by the greater comprehension of the former.”
Although Paulsson’s conclusions are less definite than one might hope for, this monograph is important for its revelations of the possibilities of laboratory methods in studies of this kind. It also indicates the general trend and technique of recent experiments in this field.
These are the major experiments. among the minor ones is Dorothy Stumberg’s “Study of Poetic Talent.”
The subjects of this study were high school students, college undergraduates, and two graduate students. Twenty-eight of these people had shown poetic talent in the class room, or had had verse accepted for publication; twenty-eight had not written poetry, and had no interest in it. Ten tests were given to each student, covering the fields of rhyming, controlled associations, imagery, rhythm, affective states, imagination (ink-blot test), memory, and judging of poetry. The results showed that poets rhymed with more facility and exhibited a larger vocabulary than did those who had no interest in poetry; poets had a relatively larger amount of imagery; their sense of rhythm was not so good as might be expected; they saw more in ink-blots, and had a better memory for poetic material; the most striking difference was in the ability of poets to see a likeness in two dissimilar things and to use phrases involving such comprehension.
In the field of painting Jones
undertook a somewhat similar experiment. He first sent a questionnaire to two hundred artists, and from their replies he concluded that the artist is a good visualizer, reasons logically, is an adept in making fine discriminations and perceptions, and is capable of accurate motor adjustments. With this information as the basis of his tests, he presented cartoons and drawings from life to 264 school children in the seventh and eighth grades to be copied. The cartoons were copied rapidly; the drawing were painstaking work. He supplemented this by group tests for visual memory and perception of perspective. He found that visual memory correlated with drawing ability 83+ 32; perception of perspective with drawing ability 69 + 5, and perception with visual memory, 85 + 72. These correlations are high but Jones suggests fuller work to determine their exact meaning.
In the same field, Meier, after study of the masters of painting, decided that in technique the measure of one’s possibilities for success “in graphic art is taken as being closely correlated with the degree of aesthetic sensitivity.”
He used the works of recognized masters as test material.
The constant in art was assumed to be the general principles of balance, harmony, rhythm, and their variations. Two copies were made of each art work, one like the original and the other with some element altered so that the balance, rhythm or harmony was destroyed. Left-right responses were asked for. The test was given to 1,081 subjects in grade schools, normal schools, colleges, and private art training; the others were art majors. The tests were given in different communities: in two cities of a half-million population each, one community of 50,000, two small cities of 8,000 and 15,000 respectively, and in one village. The distribution of scores showed an overlapping in all classes, and an upward trend toward the art faculty; but these high scores were also attained by some untrained subjects, suggesting latent talent. Of the test in general, Meier says:
“. . . the position is taken that aesthetic judgment as measured by this device is decidedly significant and probably indicative to a very high degree of the extent to which an individual is artistically educable.”
June Downey was interested in the study of creative imagination as exhibited in literature. Many of her experiments were conducted with the hope of arriving at an understanding of what goes on in the artist’s mind through analysis of what takes place in the experient’s mind. For instance in her study, “The Imaginal Reactions to Poetry”
she tabulated reports on inner speech, finding four varieties. She follows this up with conjectures as to the effect an author’s inner speech might have on literary composition.
In another experiment
she has through introspective data, analyzed the reactions of readers to detached words. She speculates as to the results one might obtain by applying such analysis to the study of the style of writers as it exhibits their characteristic differences in mental content. For further understanding of the “metaphorical consciousness,” Miss Downey conducted an experiment under the title of “The Psychology of Figures of Speech.”
In this study, at times she requested her subjects to read silently poetic fragments chosen because of their figurative language, and to report their reactions; at other times the fragments were read aloud and their oral reports transcribed. The results showed evidence for the theory that substitution and fusion of one object for another is basal to the figurative consciousness.
An experiment indicating an entirely different basic principle was conducted by Hargreaves, under the guidance of Dr. Spearman, Director of the Psychological Laboratory, University College, London. His was an experiment
to discover if there is a group factor (that is a “faculty”) corresponding to Imagination. His task was to discover if there was a “common element in different imaginative performances, when viewed mainly from a quantitative point of view.”
(Judged in terms of the amount of irrelevant work done) and also from a qualitative point of view. The quantitative factor he designated “Fluency,” and the qualitative, “Originality.” The basis of his experiment was that if a “Fluency” group factor and “Originality” group factor were both discovered, and if the two factors were found to be related, or identical, then there would be conclusive evidence that a “faculty” of imagination actually exists. the subjects were about two hundred children whose average age was 12.8. Three groups of tests were used: intelligence, imagination, and memory. The intelligence tests came from the University College Psychological laboratory and among them were: opposites, analogies, dissected sentences, concomitants, moral classifications, language completion, and picture completion. The imagination tests were indeterminate picture completion, unfinished pictures, ink blots, unfinished stories, the writing of a list of words in a certain time. The memory test included: the description of pictures, memory of story. Each test given had a set time limit. The results of the marking of the tests showed there was some justification for the commonly accepted view that there is a “faculty” of imagination. On analysis of the factors, however,
“No sign of a general unitary and unique imaginative power or ‘faculty’ was found. Both ‘Fluency’ and ‘Originality’ appeared compound. The former comprised a ‘Speed’ or Quickness factor, Memory, and possibly an unknown factor called X: the latter consisted of Memory, some element common to ‘Fluency,’ and possibly an additional and unknown factor Z.”
The exact nature of the “Speed”, the X and the Z factors, was not clear. Theoretical considerations showed that these factors were probably due to conative elements of the nature of inhibitions. Hargreaves concludes:
“If further research confirms this hypothesis as to the influence of conative factors, then the elements peculiar, or common, to ‘Fluency’ and ‘Originality,” the elements in imagination, are not unique mental functions or powers, but are cognitive and conative processes already recognized. No general ‘faculty’ of Imagination in the ancient and common use of the phrase will then exist.”
This section has been a summary of the chief work in the experimental field. It indicates chiefly the scarcity of available scientific data, the lack of standardized tests, the uncertainty of approach which is inevitable in a field that has just been opened for exploration. The studies mentioned above have been the work of pioneers in the most fascinating world of all -- the human mind in its creative capacity.
D. Present Working Concepts
The reader may have noted throughout the last chapter a more or less synonymous use in recent studies as creative mind, creative imagination, creative faculty, and creative power, with a general tendency
to make creative imagination the comprehensive term. It may be well to consider at this point what are the working concepts on which present investigations are based. What is this power that is so generally reorganized as essential to the creative progress? Even as concise an interpretation as the dictionary gives indicates that the term imagination has been used with varying connotations.
Ribot speaks of:
“. . . the equivocal use of the word ‘imagination’ which at one time means mere reproduction of images, and at another time creative activity, and which consequently keeps up the erroneous notion that in the creative imagination images, the raw materials, are the essential part.”
Early in the history of psychology, the imagination meant only the ability to have mental imagery.
Later a distinction was made between reproductive and productive imagination, the former being the imaging of previous experience, and the latter, the forming of new images from old. Still later imagination came to be something more than the mere having of images. It came to include the thought with which the imagery was loaded, and the unit was not the image but the idea. It was now equivalent to ideation. Of this connotation the Encyclopedia Americana says:
“. . . imagination is something more than the mere having of discrete images of ideas. It is rather a sequences of mental processes which is directed in its course either by the perceptions of feelings of the moment (passive imagination) or by some dominating idea of disposition which looks to the creation of a new object.
As may be noted this application of the term is different from the Aristotelian idea of imagination as the faithful reproduction of objects. For many centuries this persistent association with the standards of fidelity to natural objects was an obstacle to the recognition of imagination as a creative function. Prescott writes of these early theories:
“The early English theorists following Aristotle and perhaps taking his imitation too narrowly, are inclined to relate imagination too closely to sensation. Thus Hobbes: ‘For after the object is removed, or the eye shut, we still retain an image of the thing seen, though more obscure than when we saw it. And this is it the Latins call imagination, from the image made in seeing. . . Imagination, therefore, is nothing but decaying sense.
Bacon gives it more freedom; as history belongs to the memory, so poetry belongs to the imagination, ‘which, being unrestrained by laws, may make whatever unnatural mixtures and separations it pleases’.”
As has been seen
following Addison’s publication of certain papers on imagination in the Spectator, the term “creative imagination was established, and the close relation of imagination to sensation was broken. Imagination became the power of “retaining, altering and compounding images.”
This conception has prevailed in part, undergoing modification and emphasis shifting from imagery factors to affective and intellectual factors. I.A. Richards gives Coleridge credit for the original formulation of the definition of imagination in is present sense and Richards Adds, “. . . it is hard to add anything to what he has said.”
He quotes from Coleridge’s Biographica Litereraria:
‘“ That synthetic and magical power to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination . . . reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite of discordant qualities . . . the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement.”’
For the most part definitions of imagination have stressed the free combination of images, and the “newness” of design. As instances of such interpretations are these statements by James and by Seashore:
“When the mental pictures are of data freely combined, and reproducing no past experience exactly, we have acts of imagination properly so called.
“Imagination is therefore defined as the process of forming new ideal combinations, which depend on relative absence of objective restriction and considerable freedom of subjective selection.”
Other psychologists stress the affective element. Among the earlier explanations of this type is Baldwin’s:
“Thought is the representative or cognitive apprehension of relations among notions; imagination is the affective or felt apprehension of relation among images.”
Ribot, too, emphasizes the emotional element, for following his definition, “creative imagination consists in the property images have of gathering into new combinations through the effect of spontaneity.”
He adds that in this process “the emotional factor yields in importance to no other.”
Other psychologists emphasize the volitional element, the need for definite direction and aims, as indicated in this passage by Titchener:
“. . . the psychology of imagination takes shape somewhat as follows. Behind everything lies a cortical set, a nervous bias, perhaps inherited and permanent, perhaps acquired and temporary. This background may not appear in consciousness at all; or it may appear as a vague, conscious attitude (passive imagination), or again as a more or less definite plan, aim, ambition, intention (active imagination). Whether conscious or not, the nervous disposition determines the course of consciousness. It also helps to initiate the imaginative complex, the first concrete clue to which usually comes, in fact, as inspiration, a happy thought . . . If we are dealing with active imagination, the subsequent stage, in which the idea is worked up and over . . . is essentially a stage of skilled labor, of secondary attention, that ends only with the expression of the idea in objective terms. Meanwhile, consciousness has been variously emotive. the imaginative ideas bring with them the feeling of strangeness. Meanwhile, also, all sorts of empathetic complexes have formed about the focal processes, vivifying and personalizing the partial products of the constructive effort . . . In imagination, consciousness proceeds, as a whole, from the fountain-head of disposition; there are no limits of any kind save those of individual capacity and experience; but the stream, whatever its volume, flows always in a determinate direction; consciousness, as we have said is integrative.
For the most part explanations of imagination have resorted to the method of comparison of this faculty with other thought processes. Thus Wundt treating imagination as intellectual consciousness, as ideation, sets it off against understanding:
“Where regular arrangement of the thought compounds, bound up with a tendency to form them abstractly, is uppermost, it is the custom to assign this to the understanding. Where consciousness is more inclined to the free play of associations and of newly excited thought-forms, and at the same time to a more concrete form of thinking, it is customary to speak of the activity of the imagination. But really we are here dealing . . . always and only with participation of the apperception and associations that enter into all processes of thought, though distributed in a relatively different manner.”
Meuman distinguishes between the idea of memory and of imagination.
“They are ideas of memory when they appear to us to be subjective copies of objects or processes which we have formerly experienced. In ideas of imagination this trans-subjective reference to former impressions is lacking; and in the adult, ideas of imagination have not infrequently been found to have come into being from numerous combinations, cleavages, variations and fusions of former ideas of memory; so that they seem to be exceedingly complex structures, in which now one, now another, component idea predominates in consciousness, in consequence of the cohesion and constellation of ideas.”
Woodworth resorts to comparison of reasoning and imagination:
“The materials manipulated in imagination are usually facts previously perceived, and to be available for mental manipulation they must now be recalled; but they are not merely recalled -- they are rearranged and given a new result. A product of imagination is composed of parts perceived at different times and later recalled and combined, as a centaur is composed of man and horse, or a mermaid of women and fish. Imagination is like reasoning in using recalled facts; but it differs from reasoning in being manipulation rather than exploration; reasoning consists in seeing relationships that exist between facts, and imagination in putting facts into new relationships.”
An interpretation expressing one of the most recent slants on imagination is that of Prescott, for whom the process of imagining is similar to that of dreaming, with its fusion, of images condensation and displacement. He writes:
“Any imaginative activity of value will go back to many roots in the poet’s mind -- some recent, some remote -- in many cases to roots that have been growing since the very beginning of mental life. The images from the different sources will be fused, the recent will be connected by recondite associations with the more remote, one will be substituted for another by means of resemblance, and all will be colored by a feeling which may go back to the earliest time.”
Having noted the use of the term “imagination” in theory, it may be well to observe its application in experimental work. Wilfred Lay (1898) in his study of mental imagery makes this explanation of his terms:
“Any imagination is here meant the ‘faculty’ generally called more specifically, creative imagination. It is that which makes great works of art, whether they be paintings, sculptures, poems, symphonies, or cathedrals. The possession of the creative imagination implies that of mental imagery, but not vice versa. Imagination is something abstract and indescribably; imagery is concrete and experienced by everyone. Imagination is something that cannot be itself represented in mental imagery save by a feeling; mental imageries are on the other hand quite as real (not objective, however) as sensations themselves and play quite as important a role in our lives. “
Alexander, approaching the problem of artistic creation, almost thirty years later uses the term in much the same sense, but indicates the later trend by stressing the necessity for a guiding purpose in the formation of these new combinations:
“First of all let us distinguish between active imagination and passive imagination. The second we have not only in one species of what is commonly called constructive imagination, in day dreaming or reveries or in fancy . . .The difference of such passive imagination from the creative sort is the absence of purpose. In the first, images flare up in your mind, more or less like the perceptions you have had, or in new combinations which have had and will have no real existence. In the creative imagination of art, on the other hand, you are not merely contemplating objects of the real world as they come to you faded or distorted in memory or expectation or heightened by more or less passionate fancy, but you create a new reality by the mind, lift objects selected from the real worl into a new world in which they possess not mere existence, but something more which is value, the value of beauty. And you do this by moulding the material to express a purpose or if you like a thought.”
These pages have indicated how increasingly difficult has become the task of defining the major term of this thesis -- creative imagination. One hopes that future research will serve to clarify its meaning. For the present, there is reasonable agreement among artists, critics and psychologists that imagination is something different from the mere memory image; that by a process of selection, combination and re-presentation something really new comes into being; and that, therefore, the use of the term constructive or creative imagination is justified in referring to this distinct activity of the human mind.
This survey has covered theories which lead from contemplation of the artist as imitator to a conception of him as creator. He has been thought of, first, as dependent upon divine power for inspiration, and finally, as seeking this same flame among racial and other memories in the “subterranean well” of his unconscious self. The speculative, philosophical studies of the artist, theorist, and critic have been followed by the methods of the empirical psychologist with his statistical measuring rods, his analyses of introspective data, and his mental tests. Great minds of many centuries have puzzled over this mystery of creative power. As long as it remains a riddle, the power and persuasiveness of art will impel investigations of the processes which have created it. Today the case still stands very much as described by Titchener:
“Two hypotheses of the nature of the imaginative consciousness are sharply opposed in current discussion. According to the one, the imaginative idea or constellation comes as if from without, by inspiration; the poem sings itself, the painting groups and colours itself, to the mental ear and eye; imagination is a native gift of endowment. According to the other, the imaginative consciousness is profusely imaginal; associations throng about the focal choice and arrangement of these associated ideas. On the former hypothesis, the imaginatively gifted individual is the dreamer of dreams and the seer of visions; on the latter he is the planner, the moulder, the constructor. So imagination appears now as the typically passive and now as the typically active temperament: precisely as genius is described now as the capacity for taking infinite pains. And witnesses can be brought on both sides.”
And Titchener’s next statement is also still true: “We have not the data for a final characterization.” (1) Experiments have been, and still are being performed, but they are still too few in number, and the work is still too new to answer the questions quoted from Bullough at the beginning of this work.