Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

AFB’s Terms of Art #10: Imagination

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Now that increasing numbers of people are stuck at home and sheltering in place, I figured I’d do a little series. Every weekday for the duration of this intense period, I’ll post a short definition of some term in/related to aesthetics and philosophy of art. Let’s see how this goes! See them all here.

Terms of Art #10:


Pronunciation: ih-MA-(d)juh-NAY-shun

Definition: Think about it like this. When we perceive, our mind tries to reflect to us what the world is like. When we imagine, our mind says, hm, let’s take all that shit and just jumble it up however we feel. Not real? Doesn’t matter; that’s not the point.

Perception – Look at a normal duck. Where are its eyes? On its head, sort of on the sides.
Imagination – Where else could the eyes be? On the very front of its head, like us, or on the back! (Oh, hm, that wouldn’t work well.) On its beak! (Now you’re just being silly.) On its butt! (Lol. Grow up.)

Not just that. We use imagination when we think about all kinds of things. Thinking about what to eat for lunch? You might imagine eating different things and how each prospect makes you feel. Thinking about what to wear? Consider different combinations (don’t try them all on! that’s a huge waste of time!) and imagine how they’d look. Somebody else is scared when you feel fine? Imagine what they must be feeling and why.

For art: Reading a book? Those images that come to your mind as you read are the work of your imagination. Listening to music? Colors or images or situations that come to mind – also imagination. Looking at a painting? I mean really all you see is paint and stuff. But once you start thinking about the space represented by the scene and what it might be like to be *in* that space, that’s imagination. It doesn’t always take tons of effort. We do it ALL OF THE TIME.

No wonder so many philosophers throughout history have had a shit ton to say about imagination. It’s basically one of the foundational things that makes up human experience!

Related terms:
Imaginative resistance – when you have an especially hard time imagining certain things. Try to imagine a sci-fi world where ducks have eyes on their butts. Easy! Weird as hell, but easy. Now, try to imagine a sci-fi world where it’s totally morally okay to betray people. Not just where the creatures *think* it’s totally okay and don’t punish each other for betrayals, but where it’s *actually* completely morally fine. Pretty hard! The philosophical puzzle: Why the difference??


Duck image via Flickr, has been edited under CC licensing.

One Comment

  1. I think the number of swear words is increasing as time goes on. But maybe I’m just imagining it…

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