Imagery, creativity and emergent structure


Mental imagery has been brought into light from relative obscurity, with empirical and neurological research uncovering different aspects of the properties of images (Finke, 1996). Many studies such as Finke (1980, 1986) have helped put forth that imagery is diverse and that mental images in comparison to other forms of mental representation, can be dissimilar. These studies paved the way for recent revelations of the association between mental imagery and visual creativity (Finke, 1990). Imagery, creativity and emergent structure (1996) focuses on the creativity of cognition that has helped to deliberate cognitive structures and processes involved in creative thinking and imagination. Finke's research is grounded on experimentation in which the establishment of purposes are brought to life. Firstly, he aimed to review advances in the study of creative imagery, especially those based on methods of creative cognition. This was seen in his study of asking subjects to combine shapes, in order to explore and create innovative solutions in a specific domain of subjects, such as furniture. The outcomes were evaluated by a jury through the presentation of their interpretations by verbal explanation, and judged on originality and practicality. Those who scored high "were classified as creative inventions" (Finke, 1996, pg 383). This experiment was established on the basis of the Geneplore model of creative cognition (Finke et al, 1992 cited in Finke, 1996) in which the creative mind generates preinventive forms that are subsequently explored. This brought about Finke's second purpose in order to differentiate between aspects of creative imagery that reveal conscious, deliberate control and those that reveal the absence of such control, related to the Geneplore model. Two aspects accounted for creativity, a generative phase, where an individual formulates mental representations called preinventive structures, and an exploratory phase where those structures are adopted to establish creative ideas. His final purpose was to provide an understanding of the variation between intentional structured aspects and its uncontrolled unstructured aspects in the fabrication of creative thinking.

Strengths and weaknesses

Advances made in this field hold important implications for future research. The ideology behind the fact that one could use mental imagery to retrieve various features as well as incidents that were not intentionally committed to memory (Finke, 1989), holds importance to how creative one's imagery can be. Finke's (1996) research supported how creative humans' minds were and could be. This was demonstrated by a vast amount of experiments from Pinker & Finke (1980) where it was found that one often seeks properties in an image that they were not aware of until the image was initially formed. This was researched further by Finke, Pinker & Farah, (1989) demonstrating the discovery of emergent structures in images.

In these experiments, subjects were asked to mentally overlay letters, numbers or simple geometric forms and report any emergent features that could be detected in their images. Subjects typically reported that they detected geometric forms such as right triangles and patterns such as letters. These were emergent patterns and were a major development in the study of creative imagery, enabling the thought that taking simple patterns and combining them in novel ways, could lead to discoveries of new creative imagery. This further amounted to the discovery into claims concerning the value of combinational play in artistic and scientific research, as supported by Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi (1976 cited in Ward, Smith and Finke, 1992) and Perkins (1981). It is because of this research that the capacity for discovering emergent structures in imagery proved to be limitless. Ward (2007) supported this research and suggested that the cognitive processes leading to creative and non creative imagery was a benefit of the approach, helping with advancing the understanding of basic cognitive process by assessing their application in creative endeavours. A weakness of Finke's experimental approach according to Ward (2007) explored the nature that though experimental demonstrations were effective in its establishment of processing creative imagery, artificial situations may be created assessing variables with little or no relevance to real world creative events.

Sutherland (Appendix D, n.d) criticizes aspects of the Geneplore generative phase rather than the general principle behind it. Finke noted the diversity between strategies intended for generating preinventive forms and the impulsive generation of the forms. During dreaming, Finke (1996) makes claim in which preinventive forms happen in an uncontrolled and unplanned manner, and in comparison, subjects generate their preinventive forms deliberately and in control. Finke considered this as advantageous merely for the reason that being in control of the generative process would enhance creativity in various properties on preinventive forms. Sutherland criticizes this view on the basis that though creativity would increase, this would just lead to increasing what he called "bizarre interpretations" (Appendix D, n.d, pg 241). He emphasised no direct issue with the exploratory phase except that the not knowing of whether the exploratory phase took place in a conscious or unconscious level. Finke defended his position that exploring preinventive forms and exploratory processes occurred in a "deliberate and controlled manner" (Finke, 1996, pg 387) suggesting a conscious process.

Finke's final purpose was the contrast between structured and unstructured aspects of creative thinking and imagination. There is no shortage of studies such as Ward (1994) and Jansson & Smith (1991), whom implied that creative imaginations were often structured by prior knowledge. In comparison, is the unstructured qualities by what Finke (1996) called 'chaotic thinking'. This was a perception that people viewed the world as an unpredictable place, engaging in divergent thinking which they would explore fascinating possibilities without any specific plan or goal. If for example the focus was on design in which creativity was one the pillars, Pereira (1999) considered this sector of the model at being weak. Although the outcomes would bring tasks into reality, this model would not provide a plausible goal if incorporated into design. If structured however, the properties of variables such as furniture would allow subjects to focus on a possible end result. On the contrary, Finke is not oblivious to this, shown by this perception that the combination of both qualities would strengthen his cause as "new ideas make contact with previous ideas, but they also further stimulate explorations and insightful discoveries" (Finke, 1996, pg 391). The incorporation of this into his model would only boost the concept of creative realism and the structural connection within the boundaries of the generative phase of thinking creatively, and that imagination could be stimulated within the exploratory phase.


Finke demonstrates that creativity does not exist through one path, and that creative research could lead to new discoveries. Although criticised by many, none can doubt that creativity is endless of new ideas. Creative ideas, concepts and images shown by Finke, are a manifestation of what the human mind can do, whether creativity is a result of being intentional or uncontrolled, his model has helped provide insight into the nature of creativity and how creativity can be enhanced. His purpose was to express the exploration of creativity and to perhaps accept creativity as an authentic part of this area and ordain research into the creative mind (Ward, Smith and Finke, 1999).


Appendix D (n.d) Retrieved 24 December 2009 at 21.41.09 from

Finke, R. A. (1980). Levels of Equivalence in Imagery and Perception. Psychological Review, 87, 113-132.

Finke, R. A. (1986). Mental imagery and the visual system. Scientific American, 254, 88-95.

Finke, R. A. (1989). Principles of mental imagery. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Finke, R. A. (1996). Imagery, Creativity and Emergent structure. Consciousness and Cognition, 5, 381-393

Finke, R. A., Pinker, S., & Farah, M. J. (1989). Reinterpreting Visual Patterns in Mental Imagery. Cognitive Science, 13, 51-78.

Finke, R. A., Ward, T. M., & Smith, S. M. (1992). Creative Cognition: Theory, research, and applications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Jansson, D.G., & Smith, S.M. (1991). Design Fixation. Design Studies, 12, 3-11

Pereira, L.Q. (1999). Divergent Thinking and the Design Process. Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, USA

Perkins, D. N. (1981). The Mind's Best Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

Pinker, S., & Finke, R. A. (1980). Emergent Two-Dimensional Patterns in Images Rotated in Depth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 6, 244-264.

Ward, T. B. (1994). Structured Imagination: The Role of Category Structure in Exemplar Generation. Cognitive Psychology, 27, 1-40

Ward, T. B., Smith, S. M., Finke, R.A. (1999) Creative Cognition: Handbook of Creativity. New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press

Ward, T. B. (2007) Creative Cognition as A Window on Creativity. Methods 42, 28-37

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