Open Imagination (Bachelard, Rimbaud and Baudelaire)

Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen by Étie...
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Two weeks ago, I wrote about the open experience where when engaged in an activity such as painting one’s mind is easily carried into a state of reverie where one can experience the world and images that spring from reverie simultaneously. In this state one feels the unity and the wholeness within oneself and the world. This week I want to focus on how in the creative act, images appear before our eyes, called forth by reverie, and these images are open-ended allowing for the creativity of the individual to find meaning and the inherent emotion contained within the image. Gaston Bachelard states,

“The fundamental word corresponding to imagination is not image, but imaginary. The value of an image is measured by the extent of its imaginary radiance. Thanks to the imaginary, the imagination is essentially open and evasive. In the human psyche, it is the very experience of openness and newness… As Blake proclaims, ‘The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself.’ ” (Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p.19)

When one is truly in a state of reverie, there is a continuous passage between the real and the imaginary. (Ibid,p.22) One finds oneself in an in-between where the imagination takes precedence and allows images to emerge that are seeking form and voice. These images rise and fall within the imagination- they go beyond thought by presenting themselves as independent and fluid entities. As an artist, one desires to spend time in this state to come to know what is within and without that is seeking form. In regards to active imagination as presented from the Jungian perspective- it is allowing those inner emotions and images to transform our very being, bringing us to a position of wholeness psychologically. But the artist’s goal is to be open to the “moment”, tapping into images that take on a more universal force in the world. These images become conductors of transformation. We can all recall a painting or sculpture that has had that transformative effect on our being- Van Gogh’s, Starry Night or Rodin’s, Gates of Hell.

The poet, Arthur Rimbaud makes a point to find this space of open imagination, “The poet makes himself a seer by a long, gigantic and rational derangement of all the senses” ( Letter to Paul Demeny, May 15, 1871). Rimbaud “unbridled the intelligence” in order to journey into the unknown. And from this unknown realm to bring back a new consciousness through poetry that would go beyond the present forms and present the reader with a powerful voice that achieved a complete absorption of all of the senses. Baudelaire states it well,

“Who among us has not dreamed…of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm or rhyme, supple enough and harsh enough to adjust to the lyric movements of the soul, to the undulations of reverie, to the sudden starts of consciousness?” ( Baudelaire, Preface to Prose Poems)

This is not only the goal of poetry but of painting as well. To a painter, it is presenting a balance of color, value, light, rhythm, beauty and emotional impact and binding this to an image that speaks to one’s own soul as well as to the soul of the world. One cannot rationally come to this.  One has to let go and yet be attentive because that image can only be glimpsed, for it passes in a flash.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

2 thoughts on “Open Imagination (Bachelard, Rimbaud and Baudelaire)”

  1. This describes so succinctly what I feel when in the process of painting. It truly does feel as though the images are seeking me out and using me to express themselves on the canvas. It is a most mysterious and delightful state that I surrender myself to more and more. I am also learning to surrender and trust this process completely as this is where I find out what I need to know.

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