As an artist, I’ve noticed that the word “imagination” comes across awfully suspicious to some, very much in the way saying “I am an artist” does. People may assume an escapist route to flights of fantasy. Artists, they seem to think, are irresponsible people. After all, being an “imaginator” sounds great, but it does not sound realistic or practical. Few parents encourage a teen who says, “I want to be an artist when I grow up.”
To be sure, "imagination" ought to be distinguished from "fantasy." The former is fully present in the gritty reality of the earth; the latter, a disconnected solipsism, a type of narcissism. Imagination is a uniquely human faculty that is connected with reality and faith at the same time. Human beings have the capacity to imagine the future and actually see it into reality.
Further, for a Christian, imagination is even more valuable:
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)
If you take this word of the New Testament seriously, it follows that you must have imagination in order to have faith. In this light, parents might not only encourage the teen, but invite, for being an artist—focusing as a way of making a living to cultivate imagination in himself and others—is essential for our faith, essential for living out the Gospel promises.
The cultivation of imagination is to begin to integrate life into faith and every other facet, whether mundane or extraordinary, whether 9-5 work realities or worship in a church. Imagination is key to the thriving God intends for us.
Artists contribute to this thriving because they have trained their imagination as part of their call to create. Non-artists can learn from them. Here are a few basic suggestions I share with non-artist folks who want to cultivate this very real and very practical way of seeing:
Learning to Cultivate Imagination
- Befriend an artist. Go to her studio, listen live to her songs, watch her rehearse, read her poetry (aloud to each other in community). Tell her you care for her as an individual. Admire her willingness to take risks trying to make the invisible visible, and communicate that you would like to know more about the process of her journey so that you can journey with her.
- Invite an artist to brainstorm with you. Call him when you begin anything new, whether a new business plan, a new church, or an entrepreneurial company. Do this at the start of the process rather than at the end when all you need is a logo. Surprise him by paying a consulting fee, and keep him in the loop of your creation.
- Partner with an artist in creating a “Culture Care” movement in your community. Think bigger than just your business, family, or church. Instead, think of the old-fashioned word commonwealth, and create “wealth” that can be shared by everyone in your community.
- “Waste" time with your spouse, children, and friends. Imagination only grows when you are not in a nine-to-five efficiency mode. Let the margins of your life expand, and live in the expectation of the abundant, gratuitous reality of love.
What an artist does and what a business leader does are quite similar in the sense of creating a future to map out possibilities. May our future be generative indeed!