By Dave Hood
Inspiration often begins with a passion. Yo-Yo Ma said, “Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks. Webster’s defines inspiration as an idea, person, place, experience, moment, that makes someone want to do or create something. Some people wait their entire lives and never create anything, believing that it will arrive like an epiphany. Self doubt can undermine inspiration. Poet, Sylvia Plath, wrote: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Many poison their best intentions with a mindset of perfection, which often prevents a person from beginning some creative endeavor.” It will sabotage your inspiration. The surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, reminds us “to have no fear of perfection because you’ll never achieve it.” We must forget the idea that inspiration will arrive like a flash of lightning. Inspiration requires hard work. What are the sources of inspiration? There are an infinite number of things that can inspire creativity.
Fleeting moments can inspire us to make art with words, a brush, even a camera. Writer and instructor Natalie Goldberg, author of “The True Secret of Writing,” an insightful book about developing a writing practice and becoming a writer suggests: “It’s important to trust these moments and let them inform our lives…These moments are a flash, an insight when we see through the confusion of our constant think to something clear….Leaf through your life, searching for moments. Make a list of significant moments. What did you learn? What insight appeared in your mind? Is there an epiphany? Write about them.
Some people are inspired by a word, perhaps “conundrum” or “apotheosis” or “leviathan.”
Poet Mary Oliver is inspired by the sounds and sights and smells of nature.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the memorable photographer, was motivated by the “decisive moment.” He focused his attention on capturing an emotion or human action at the “peak moment.”
Many who read poetry are inspired by the content of a poem, such as these words from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken:”
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Or a quotation: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” ― Rumi
Angelina Jolie, who directed the film, “Unbroken,” a true story about Olympian Louis Zamperini, whose plane was shot down into the ocean during WWII, who then survived 47 days on a raft in the sea, and then survived many months as a prisoner of war, was inspired by the biography with the same title, written by Laura Hillenbrand.
Jackson Pollock was inspired by his emotions, and relied on these emotions and human action to create drip paintings, which was defined by the art world as “Abstract Expressionism.”
Picasso, the cubist painter, tells us to learn the rules so that we can break them.
Andy Warhol was inspired by the pop culture of the 60s– Images of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, the dictator of China—Chairman Moa, images of consumer products, such as a Campbell’s soup can.
Colour can inspire. For instance, red symbolizes lust or rage. Blue evokes calm. Brown conjures up images of the earth, soil in the garden, mud on a rainy day. We can see how colour has inspired the paintings of abstract expressionist, Mark Rothko, who applied colour in swaths to his canvas, colours that expressed his emotions.
Many artists will tell you that visual inspiration can be found in line, shape, pattern, texture, form, space—the visual elements of art. Those who embrace the theory of formalism believe in art for art’s sake. The artist can create art with these elements, and the viewer can appreciate the aesthetic experience of pondering the image in a gallery.
The desire to be original, unique, true to one’s self, is a source of inspiration for many artists. The avant garde mind finds inspiration in being “different.”
Alex Webb, the contemporary documentary photographer/street photographer, is inspired by enigma, ambiguity, juxtaposition. Eugene Richards, another renowned documentary photographer is inspired by the human condition within various social settings, which he hopes will elevate social awareness. He has photographed war, poverty, aging, gay rights, crime. Laura Greenfield was inspired by the female desire to be thin and girl culture, which inspired her to document these realities with a camera, like a writer who pens an journalistic piece on some social problem.
Human emotion can inspire. One thinks of Edward Munch’s haunting painting “The Scream.”
The human figure can inspire. Lucien Freud often painted various poses of a corpulent woman, while Helmut Newton used his camera to photograph young, lissome women in various stages of undress.
Most people are inspired by beauty–especially sight and sound. We can fill our souls with infinite experiences that are beautiful, such as a facial expression. A woman who smiles has a kind of beauty no matter what she wears.“ And yet, Helen Keller stated: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, but must be felt with the heart.” There is beauty in the ordinary, such as a sunset, a shadow, a reflection.
Some people find inspiration by asking questions, such as why?
Many are inspired by the sublime. It is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. Look up into the night sky, and you will see the sublime. We can feel it when see observe light reflected off a flower. We can experience it from a tornado or blizzard. The sublime evokes awe, wonder, delight—and often fear.
Many unearth inspiration by changing their vantage point? Too often, we see things at eye-level. By shifting our line of sight, such as observing the world from our knees or a bird’s eye view, we become inspired.
Shakespeare wrote, “The earth has music for those who listen.” We can discover inspiration by living in the moment–experiencing life with your senses–the sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
Inspiration is everywhere. It is embodied in infinite objects, things, places, people, moments, feelings, human actions, experiences. It is waiting for you to discover. If you desire creative inspiration, don’t wait for it to find you. Instead wander, search, explore, discover, capture it–and then create something, perhaps a touching poem, a riveting short story, an evocative photograph, a sublime landscape painting, a memorable piece of music.Poet Mary Oliver reminds us, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Finding inspiration is hard work.“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” (Andy Warhol)