Inspiration And The Arts Practitioner

If you’re in the arts of some kind, being broadly creative, or maybe specifically honed into an area, or somewhere in between working an area of the arts, be it large scale, small scale, or perhaps down to an individual, you’re in the business of capturing your inspiration. It’s the inspiration that gets you going, and allows you to have a vision for seeing the project through.

There are of course different types of creative processes as well as creative problems. Some of them need a solution and you might be looking for just the right thing to bridge the conceptual gap. Other times, you are trying to build something from scratch and you need something upon which to hang the entire enterprise. In each and every instance, you need a little something to get you over the line, a little bit of inspiration so that you can supply the 99% perspiration as Edison’s adage goes. Conversely there is nothing more sad than a work of art that lacks the inspiration, and you are left witnessing just the 99% perspiration part, the craft without a rasion d’etre.

Inspiration is a funny little thing, sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. There are artists who claim they can invoke the muse, and like magic, summon up an idea. I am more in the camp where I struggle mightily to clear a head space in order for something to walk through the door. For all the contemplation, pondering, and general meditative sleeping-on-the-topic I bring to bear, the best ideas come in a flash and they practically assemble themselves. And once you’ve done it that way, you want to do it again and again.

The best description of inspiration then is that it is like a cat; it likes being fussed over, but will not come to you when it is summoned like some dog, no. It chooses when it wants to come to you and rub up against your leg and express its affections.

This then brings about a question as to what exactly a work of art is, in relationship to the moment of inspiration. It’s not the most popular view, but in my opinion,the work of art represents the residue of the moment of inspiration. When you look at a work of art or listen to a piece of music, watch a bit of film or read a line of poetry, what you are actually dealing with, is the derivative product of the inspirational moment. First comes the waiting, then comes the inspiration, then the craft is applied to make the work of art, and the art is presented to the world. We accept the finished work as the artwork in question, but if we venture deeper into the process that brings about that product, then we are in essence, going backwards in search of the moment of inspiration that visited itself upon the artist.

This is how we intuit the difference between something the artist churned out as part of their craft, and something that would represent the pinnacle of their working life.

I can offer up a personal example. I used to translate an article for a columnist every month. Each month I would receive a small critique, and I had 48hours to translate it and forward it to the editor. Some months, I could tell the columnist was writing with great ease because they were inspired to write something good. Other months, I could tell they were struggling to find something — anything — to get them over the line so that a column went to press. I quizzed the columnist about this, and I found it to have a correlation. The articles where the columnist struggled to find something nice to write about something would turn into columns that were incredibly difficult to translate. The articles where the columnist really liked the subject would turn out to be very smooth in translation.

If you pay attention, you can pick up on what and how that artist is feeling about their work, through their work; and in turn this means we can with great empathy, take just about anybody’s work and feel our way to the moment of inception of that work. This is one of the more fun ways to tangle with a work, be it literature, painting, music or cinema. There are many ways to approach works — you can go at it with aesthetic theory or ideological critique, or for that matter brute taste — but the best way to understand the artist is to see if you can feel your way back to the inspiration. It’s not exactly what academics and critics do, but if you are a practitioner, trying to feel your way back to the inspiration through another artists’ work is the most interesting way to appreciate a work. I recommend you give it a try. It’s the fastest way to let you see why something is good.

If you understand that goodness, then you are ready to trust your instincts and you are well on your way to doing something good yourself.