What if? — A simple question that sparks creativity

If memory serves me well, a Continuing Education class in fiction writing I attended waaaay back when has taught me that this is the question science fiction and fantasy writers love and use most. It is the question they ask themselves that helps spring forth new story scenarios which give birth to new characters. These characters bring with them their unusual histories and places full of otherworldly flora and fauna. Perhaps they come from alien environments, other dimensions, or parallel universes. All of these can spew forth from one tiny question, “What if?” Some of these “What Ifs” inspire stories so compelling that they move us to create our own yarns. Some “What Ifs” create tales so beloved that we carry their messages in our hearts and minds for years and which we may pass along to the next generations.

I am not a science fiction or fantasy writer. My art form does not require beautiful narrative nor elegant writing. I don’t deal with words but instead imagery. However, my work and art practice do involve the question, “What if?” a lot: What if I mix this paint with this colour? What if I layer this material over the other? What if I choose to illustrate this subject matter? What if I create a pattern out of this shape? What if from now on all my work will involve images of cephalopods? You know, silly art things like that…

There’s no no doubt in my mind that our greatest artists have asked this question of themselves, and thus have created great painted works that leave us tongue-tied and awed to silence. That our musical heroes have strung together notes and chords that were never tried before because they pondered similarly. That inventors, scientists, adventurers and engineers have made the same inquiry while they stayed up all night looking for a new energy solution, scanned the night sky with their telescopes, traversed deserts and sailed over oceans, and drew up new plans for their next great machine. Many solutions to problems have been solved because of a simple “What if?”

I don’t think I could consider myself an artist if I did not ask “What if?” constantly. For I believe that creativity cannot flourish without curiosity. Because if I was not curious, I would not experiment, I would not try nor discover new techniques. A lack of curiosity would stunt my imagination, and stop me from being playful with my work, which would stop my growth as both an artist and as a person. And for me, if I am not growing, I am not moving forward. If I am not moving forward then I am regressing. And if I regress enough my friend creativity may fall back into hibernation like it has before. A slumber so deep that only a kiss from a force that is strong enough to slay a dragon disguised as an evil stepmother queen can awaken (Blech, you see now why I am not a fiction writer!).

Anyhoo, I consider myself a pretty creative person and this question has helped to keep me going, doing and making. Give the question a try regardless of how you choose to manifest your talents.

* BTW, if you think the idea of putting cephalopods in all an artist’s artwork is kinda crazy, it is! But it has worked for one creative dude. See https://www.jonathan-crow.com/vice-presidents From what I understand, this guy is making pretty good cash from his “What If?”

Visual Artist and Art Instructor