“What if apple trees could talk?”
Good science normally makes hypotheses based on observation or probability; art deals, at its best, with what has never been observed, or observed only peripherally—darts from what is to what might have been—asking with total interest and sobriety such questions as “What if apple trees could talk?” or “What if the haughty old woman next door should fall in love with Mr. Powers, our mailman?” The artist’s imagination, or the world it builds, is the laboratory of the unexperienced, both the heroic and the unspeakable.
Art is as original and important as it is precisely because it does not start out with clear knowledge of what it means to say. Out of the artist’s imagination, as out of nature’s inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another. The artist composes, writes, or paints just as he dreams, seizing whatever swims close to his net. This, not the world seen directly, is his raw material. This shimmering mess of loves and hates—fishing trips taken long ago with Uncle Ralph, a 1940 green Chevrolet, a war, a vague sense of what makes a novel, a symphony, a photograph—this is the clay the artist must shape into an object worthy of our attention; that is, our tears, our laughter, our thought.
John Gardner, On Moral Fiction