JUST IMAGINE

Posted by Jack on October 22nd, 2008 filed in About Ann

In an otherwise clever and thoughtful book, the late, great Richard Feynman, acclaimed as a physicist of note (Nobel Prize: quantum electrodynamics), made what Ann considers a sadly uncharacteristic declaration, saying: “It is surprising that people do not believe that there is imagination in science.  It is a very interesting kind of imagination, unlike that of an artist.”  Yes, he really put that in print.  Now, there are at least two ways to interpret what he may have meant.  Was he trying to say that the imagination exercised by a scientist is a different and more interesting species, not to be confused with the dull, inferior imagination used in creation of works of literature, fantasy or art?  Or was he declaring that the mental processes that result in creation of art are themselves hopelessly uninteresting? Unfortunately in this book (The Meaning of it All – Perseus Publishing, 1998) Professor Feyneman never made it at all clear just what he may have meant by this comment. For an inellectual polymath who usually writes with great clarity and insight, he leaves us in this instance with a bold statement that begs disambiguation.   

One could argue that assigning a superior – “very interesting” – value of imagination for what he himself exercises while inferring a downmarket rank – if not uninteresting, at least non-intellectual – to that of a mere poet or artist is a grading that calls for amazing hubris.  Is there rank or hierarchical differentiation in the many expressions of imagination, in the many ways folks use this strange and compelling mental process?   Are processes of imagination of the scientist substantially different from, even superior to, those of a poet?  Those of an astronomer from those of a novelist?  Those of a chemist from those of a sculptor?  Surely you were joking, Mr. Feynman!  

By way of contrast, Paola Antonelli, the cerebral and stylish director of Design and Architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is presently curating an exhibit she calls “Design and the Elastic Mind”. This provocative show is a cleverly bold and innovative effort to celebrate the congruence of imagination in technology and art.  Far from seeing imagination of scientists and technologists as a thing apart from imagination of artists and designers, this exhibit peeks into dim corners where designers are working with scientists to come up with gizmos and gimmicks only a highly elastic mind could conjure.  

MoMA’s website says, “The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science and history – changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior – and translate them into things that people can actually understand and use.”  The show wanders into realms of genetic engineering, nanotechnology, collaborative design, metaphysical space and quantum mechanics. This interesting stuff is online and worth visiting.  You have to use your imagination!

Ann’s paintings depend mightily on exercise of imagination.  Her paintings are usually crafted and schemed in serious detail and there is an organized and disciplined line of development that has been wrought from days, even weeks of imagining.  Occasionally, though, a painting will develop from a beginning that is little more than an inspired theme and a color scheme.  Just as often a painting will take an acute departure from its origins and in mid-process will become a newly-imagined theme. It may be worthwhile some day to probe where chaos process enters into artistic imagination.  Ann has her guiding aphorism firmly fixed at the top of her largest easel. It is a quotation from Mark Twain:  “You cannot depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus”.    

 

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