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Old 11-26-2017   #1
Robert Adam Gilmour
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Topic Winner Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

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I've long been obsessed with the way expectations relate to creativity. I think I've bored a lot of people with it but it's probably never going away.
Most things are disappointing in some measure and with that lowering of expectations I have often feared the imagination suffers too.

I'd guess childhood expectations are naturally enormous, you can believe in almost anything at an early age but I wonder how much advertising and cover hype plays a part in what I expected from entertainment. Just look at any hype you've ever seen and try to imagine what it would be like if all that praise was justified.

I once believed there were films that scared to death anyone who watched alone and my ideas about so many other things were similarly extreme. When I was watching Disney films I was yearning for 10 hour epics about skeleton armies fighting armies of rat men and had no idea there wasn't thousands of films like that.

Naturally most books I've read so far are nothing like I'd hoped after hearing so much about masters and masterpieces, but I like to think I will read some things that are every bit as masterful as people say. I like to think that there can and will be things as extreme as I hoped (stopping short of killing you).

I feared that a critic, historian or fan who explores some art form extensively is going to have their imagination reduced to something only slightly bigger than their experience of that art form.
For every era of medium or genre there are a common set of flaws that you just get so used to that you're in danger of forgetting those flaws are flaws, accepting them totally and sometimes maybe not imagining they could be any other way.
Orson Welles said something about every film he sees reduces his sense of possibilities and I think that's why some creators just stop looking at other people's work.

I doubt you can ever truly lower your expectations in a definite way, I believe that on some level you always remember the former fullest scope of them. I'd bet the biggest fanboys who praise mediocrity to the skies feel an emptiness and unpleasant dissonance deep inside.

Years ago I was getting more discriminating about comics and I got rid of a huge percentage of them, resulting in an exciting big surge of ideas, as if I'd liberated my imagination. Around that time I had also considered stopping watching films because I felt so little reward for so much time and money, but I couldn't do it.
Since then I've kept wavering about what I'll spend time and money on, buying some things a second time that I regretted getting rid of.

I've come around to thinking that maybe we lower our imagination when we're relying on other people's work for fulfilment, that you can place too much hope in other people's creations.

I don't feel so crushed now when something is disappointing, I can easier appreciate things for what they are while also remembering what I'd like them to have been. Trying to not get too caught up in the reality of how things really are and find distance to think bigger.

I've been looking back at very flawed comics of my youth and even when they're bad, still getting inspired by remembering what I was hoping they'd do, trying to look at more things that way.

But I'm still very uncertain of all this and I'd like to hear what you think and what your strategies are for keeping your imagination in its best health.

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Old 11-27-2017   #2
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

I've never been sure of how artists and writers view each other's works. They know the tricks behind stage so they are probably less impressed, but as readers/viewers they also want to take pleasure in art. I guess this is the reason for high standards and the inevitable lowering expectation due to mediocrity everywhere.

As a reader, I find lowering expectation helps me enjoy a work more. Maybe it's silly but I never read blurbs, introduction, or summary before I read a book. A summary such as "XXX is the classical tale of a young boy transformation into a horse" is crude compared to the actual descriptions. Also, when I read a work described as "the most ______book of the 21st century" my expectation is every sentence will blow my mind. It hasn't happened.

I don't know about a book scaring someone to death, but I think it's possible to kill oneself over two lines of poetry. In this case, it's not about imagination or creativity but absolute perfection. To the critic, that word doesn't exist, something always "needs improvement".

When I was young, I was afraid of listening to "Gloomy Sunday", the Hungarian suicide song. I would imagine a high afternoon on empty streets, the song playing from a cafe while flies gather around drooping bodies tangled in electric lines. It had to be an afternoon on Sunday for me. It's actually quite a nice song.


"Tell me how you want to die, and I'll tell you who you are. In other words, how do you fill out an empty life? With women, books, or worldly ambitions? No matter what you do, the starting point is boredom, and the end self-destruction. The emblem of our fate: the sky teeming with worms. Baudelaire taught me that life is the ecstasy of worms in the sun, and happiness the dance of worms."
---Tears and Saints, E. M. Cioran
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Old 11-27-2017   #3
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Just some thoughts on this that are related for me, although it might be too early in the morning for me to define the links very well:

1. In a way, a non-disappointing work of art would resemble (or be?) virtual reality, but this is the kind of art that actually leaves least room for the imagination, which is one reason that imaginative text, with its 'gaps between the lines' continues to fascinate me.

2. When I was younger I was more impressed by many things (bad fantasy novels, for instance). I think this was partly because I did not realise how unoriginal they were, and, also, in many ways, how inane.

3. When people say that children are more imaginative, I think this is true, but this seems to be in large part because they are capable of being impressed and stimulated by what they encounter, and they don't self-censor their imaginative ideas. However, the vast majority of imaginative things they are impressed by are conceived and created by adults*, and children's own artistic output (though it is to be encouraged) tends to be very derivative and/or of limited appeal to a third party.

4. Lately, I am rather afraid that I might be losing the key to the gate of dreams, since monsters and so on don't captivate me in the way they once did. When I analyse this, however, I find that I have simply lost the appetite for consumption of the obvious fare of that fantasy realm, that my imagination still works constantly on ideas that use fantasy and other kinds of imagery, in the process of digesting experience, and that, although I don't enjoy this in a relaxed-yet-excited, at-leisure sense, as I used to (which is definitely a loss), I can, nonetheless, still enter into the dream-world vocationally when I sit down to write.

5. And in some ways, I seem to be better at it. Having digested more of the 'real world' in which I am trapped, I have more specific things at my disposal for my imagination to use as props and so on.

6. But my concerns, also, are changing. What I imagine is no longer, for me, so much in the nature of a future for which I hope. I find my imagination, therefore, working on the existential problem of how to find a kitchen sink beautiful, how to be cosmically fascinated by economics, and so on. That is, since I can't seem to find my way to the mountain of dreams, I am working out how to have the mountain imported, rock by rock, to me.


*I owe this insight to Justin Isis. For some reason, I'd never thought of this until he pointed it out, but it is clearly true and important to remember.

“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." - Max Weber
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Old 11-27-2017   #4
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

PS. I think 'lowering expectations' can mean two things. It can mean what you actually expect or what you think would be good (i.e. standards). In the latter sense, mine have certainly risen. I think this is part of the background of my above post.

“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." - Max Weber

Last edited by qcrisp; 11-27-2017 at 08:02 AM.. Reason: Spelling
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Old 11-27-2017   #5
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Quote Originally Posted by Robert Adam Gilmour View Post
I'd like to hear what you think and what your strategies are for keeping your imagination in its best health.
There are, in my case, many sides to a possible answer, perhaps even many possible answers, perhaps even contradictory ones. So when you read this, it's best to lower expectations of coherency...

One old trick is discipline, of course: to sit still with closed eyes and just 'look at the pictures' ( now i hate to sound like David Lynch here, but this also functions as part of a larger meditative/contemplative practice, although in my case that would be the islamic tradition of dhikr, or remembrancing ). I have noticed that what i observe there at first is largely refraction or detritus of my previous intake of stuff made by others; it can take quite a while for the mind's eye to find its own natural outlook again ( though of course to what extent this remains free from by other's creative output is debatable and a matter of intuition ).

The discipline of lucid dreaming, though full awareness demands either deep restfulness or sleep deprivation.

The discipline of allowing your imagination, at all times, to perceive the imaginal counterpart of every encounter or event alongside the actual one; this, however, will leave you socially crippled.

But there is also this, related i believe to some of the things pointed out by qcrisp:

When i was younger i had imagined that a greater proficiency at drawing would result in a more developed 'mind's eye,' but the fact is that the better at drawing i've become ( this is highly relative of course- i still don't claim to be good at it ) means i've gotten better at seeing the possibilities on the page itself. At a certain point you learn the thing is not to be able to perfectly imagine, say, a house's interior, but to leave those marks on the paper that make the observer think you've got it perfectly imagined.

& this, then, makes me wonder if there is perhaps something happening here which can be likened to the exteriorization of the imagination; thus, a private function becomes of communal importance, becomes shared domain, which in turn would point towards the role of the artist in society.

"What can a thing do with a thing, when it is a thing?"
-Shaykh Ibn Al 'Arabi
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Old 11-27-2017   #6
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
However, the vast majority of imaginative things they are impressed by are conceived and created by adults*
Yes, but perhaps these adults cunningly use their apparently adult & responsible jobs to tap into their own childish urges & imaginings? It would certainly explain its appeal to kids...

"What can a thing do with a thing, when it is a thing?"
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Old 11-27-2017   #7
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Quote Originally Posted by Ibrahim View Post
Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
However, the vast majority of imaginative things they are impressed by are conceived and created by adults*
Yes, but perhaps these adults cunningly use their apparently adult & responsible jobs to tap into their own childish urges & imaginings? It would certainly explain its appeal to kids...
I do think childhood is the time of imagination in many ways, and that we shouldn't lose touch with it, but that we should take heart from the fact that, despite the broad appearance that adults become grey, unspontaneous, etc., we are nonetheless the source of all these things that the child's imagination lives and delights in.

“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved." - Max Weber
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Old 11-27-2017   #8
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Children lack context for their experiences, which means they're more easily impressed by aesthetic content regardless of its provenance.

Child: This music is amazing! I'm feeling lots of emotion but don't know why. I want to listen to this song over and over. I don't understand how someone could make this.

Adult: Actually the chord progression and melody are stolen from a better song that came out 25 years ago. The lyrics are also cliches. There's literally nothing memorable or worthwhile about this song. FAIL.


Without context, all aesthetic content is likely to create a massive impression. Children also have more energy than adults, and in the same way that the human tongue is most sensitive in children but gradually loses sensitivity over time until geriatrics are eventually able to eat scalding hot, chili-laden food without tasting it, so children are able to become more immersed in aesthetic content and correspondingly feel joy, horror, wonder, etc.

Unfortunately these are the same reasons why they mostly suck at creating anything. The strikes working against children:

They don't have context.
They don't have many experiences.
They don't have a critical faculty.

The first two mean that anything they make is going to be ultimately derivative. Without context or experience, their creations are going to be basically plagiarism of whatever they're interested in. The third means that they're unaware of how anything is going to be received.

Child: What if my PETS had mutant powers like Wolverine? Mittens the cat becomes CAPTAIN Mittens and can fly! Neighborhood animals will become a high-powered team and go on adventures.

Adult: That idea is a pile of f***ing s**t, please lay off the crack and come back to reality. Here's an idea: a textually ambiguous ghost story set in a real estate agency where the ghosts may in fact be a Freudian manifestation of latent incestuous desires. It'll be capable of supporting at least three or four different readings without slanting definitively either way. Close third person, female central character. Aickmanesque.

Child: Uhhhhh what?


In order to acquire context and a critical faculty, children need to absorb a lot of content. In short, their proper role is as content consumers. The danger comes in once the critical faculty is acquired and disillusionment sets in. A few ways this can happen:

Having lots of disappointing experiences ("I thought the film was going to be exactly like the book. But it wasn't like it at all.")

"Overcorrection" to "established wisdom" ("You ABSOLUTELY need a single viewpoint character who WANTS ONE THING, as well as a central narrative line. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends.")

Giving up on content consumption and openness to influence ("Since I started dropping albums, I don't listen to hip-hop at all anymore. Don't WANT to hear my contemporaries. Occasionally put on the same three Golden Age tracks, that's it.")

After a while it becomes:

Child: Let's write a story!

Adult: What's the point? Nothing worth writing would sell unless I get an agent, and even then the public wants derivative workshop-style garbage. I'm not in a hurry to throw away years of my rapidly dwindling life on a fantasy trilogy. No point in writing for these idiots!!! Time for whiskey and Internet trolling.


The danger is real and the danger is ending up as ST Joshi rather than H.P. Lovecraft: in other words, you can count every comma and dangling participle, but where are the records of your travels in the Dreamlands?

Nietzsche was correct in a sense that we can only find words for (or create artworks about) what is already dead in our hearts. But it's still necessary to make things.

Children: not critical.
Adults: too critical.

The ways around this mostly involve questioning "established wisdom" while still consuming a lot of content and maintaining a childish desire to make things.
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Old 11-27-2017   #9
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Justin- you're right about the deadliness of giving in to established wisdom.

I've heard it said that part of the reason most rock/pop musicians go on a decline later in life is their not listening to enough variety and new discoveries.

One film that's particularly notable for this thread is Coppola's Dracula. First time I saw it, like most people I thought it was a bit crap. Second time I was amazed how good it was (though it still doesn't work in a few ways).
First time there's kind of an expectation of this being a definitive Dracula film (who knows the limits?), but second time I just enjoyed how many more good visuals and moments there are than most horror films (by this point I've seen hundreds more).
My imagination is much stronger by the time of second viewing yet I've undeniably lowered the standard for what I can enjoy, but I'm also a lot more demanding and critical in most ways.
It's difficult to understand how all this works exactly.

Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
6. But my concerns, also, are changing. What I imagine is no longer, for me, so much in the nature of a future for which I hope. I find my imagination, therefore, working on the existential problem of how to find a kitchen sink beautiful, how to be cosmically fascinated by economics, and so on. That is, since I can't seem to find my way to the mountain of dreams, I am working out how to have the mountain imported, rock by rock, to me.
I'm not sure if I'm thinking of a comparable situation at all, but: I gradually came to dislike some of my surroundings (as in the locations), finding them unbearably depressing sometimes, then I learned to deal with it, now they don't bother me so much anymore.

A lot of people feel an obligation to romanticize their surroundings as if they're the equal of anyone else's setting in the past or present. I don't trust this tendency, I can enjoy what some places and things have to offer but just because I or someone else has to live in a place, doesn't mean it deserves the honour of being romanticized or depicted in art.

Unless it's completely necessary to use real settings for the purposes of the story, I don't think people should. Why not show a setting that architects will want to build? Why keep validating and perpetuating the boring places most of us live? I mostly don't like cars, I can enjoy things about them and I'm open to enjoying new things about them but there is no good reason I have to feature cars in my fictional world. We don't have to like or fictionally reproduce anything about the real world to make it bearable.

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Old 11-27-2017   #10
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Re: Do your inevitably lowering expectations damage your imagination?

Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
Quote Originally Posted by Ibrahim View Post
Quote Originally Posted by qcrisp View Post
However, the vast majority of imaginative things they are impressed by are conceived and created by adults*
Yes, but perhaps these adults cunningly use their apparently adult & responsible jobs to tap into their own childish urges & imaginings? It would certainly explain its appeal to kids...
I do think childhood is the time of imagination in many ways, and that we shouldn't lose touch with it, but that we should take heart from the fact that, despite the broad appearance that adults become grey, unspontaneous, etc., we are nonetheless the source of all these things that the child's imagination lives and delights in.
I meant jobs in the culture and entertainment industry; that adults in this industry produce things that hearken back to their own childhood tastes, that's why it sells; essentially, what Justin said about regurgitating the same things over and over.

That said, what's an adult anyway? I see mostly wounded children that don't know themselves.

"What can a thing do with a thing, when it is a thing?"
-Shaykh Ibn Al 'Arabi
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