onsdag 2. april 2014

Limited Experiences Delimit Imagination

There is a saying in Norwegian: “Possibilities are delimited only by your imagination”(«Det er bare fantasien som setter grenser») which keeps puzzling me; How can imagination be delimiting? I thought it was deliberating!? But on my second thought, our imagination is of course delimited to what we are able and willing to imagine… The more diverse experiences we’ve had, the more we can imagine. And opposite: some things are impossible to imagine if we possess a narrow spectre of experiences.

From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011).
Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
While waiting for a bus one of the really cold but sunny days in Illinois this winter (about 20 C degrees below zero), I met a girl who told me about her experience. She told me how she, back at home in Kenya, watched American movies and could not understand why people in the movies wore warm clothes when it was sunny. In her experience, if it was sunny, it had to be hot – she had never experience anything else and could not imagine that it could be both cold and sunny in the same time.

Another example that comes to my mind is when my son and I travelled from Norway to Serbia the summer he was seven. He wanted to play football in the middle of a sunny day. I told him to stay indoors and wait a few hours because it was too hot. He replied: “How can you suggest I should stay indoors – you are always saying: The sun is shining, go out and play. Why can’t I go out and play now?” I realized he was right, but what he did not understand was that temperature on a sunny day in Norway is about 20 C degrees lower than a sunny day in Serbia.
From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
What we are able to imagine, depends on out past experiences. When we are playful or deal with arts, our imagination “has license to fly”, said Elliot Eisner (Eisner, 2002). Still, our imagination has to be fed by diverse experiences in order fly; Imagination is a force that connects our experiences, finds relations, makes is possible to imagine something different than it is. Imagine a puzzle with 100 parts; If a few parts are missing, your imagination would be able put the puzzle together and complement the puzzle with imaginary pieces. But if only have a few puzzle pieces, the imagination will probably not be able to fill the empty spaces. Though, young children are, and have to be, skilful “pilots” of imagination particularly because they own only a few puzzle pieces (few experiences than adults) and in order to make their world hang together they have to have elastic imagination that stretches far; Young children’s imagination connects things that adults would seldom think as related.
From: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King.
Here comes the question that has been bothering me: Can true mutual understanding ever be accomplished between people who lack similar experiences, and don’t trust their imagination? I’ve been struggling with this issue when I am trying to explain why and how arts are important for personal development. In the ears of people who have never dealt with arts, or have no positive experience with the arts, my words probably resonate something else than what I am trying to express. I frequently meet students whose experiences and imagination haven’t been acknowledged earlier in their lives. Being a teacher-educator for 15 years, I’ve figured out that my students first need to get some experiences with materials, with play and their own imagination before I can talk about these things in the way that they would understand. And when I ask them to play, some of them seem suspicious: Can they trust me? Do I really want them to be playful and not punish them for that later (if their products are not good enough)? We need to establish a trusting relationship in order to play and be imaginative, but we also need to acquire as many diverse experiences as possible.

The images are from: Valli, M., & Dessany, M. (2011). Microworlds. London: Laurence King. Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.


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