“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Artists spent a lot of time seeking inspiration. Inspiration seems to have a life of its own, busily living that life when we need it most. Sometimes I wish I could call it on my cellphone to come give me a hand! But, as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert suggests above, inspiring ideas are all around us, and we need to be alert to when they appear.
But before we get into that, preliminary basics are needed.
Let’s take a look at the creative “I” words: intuition, insight, and inspiration. These concepts are difficult to discuss in words, because it's almost like trying to discuss a vaporous dream. But let's give it a try.
Intuition, as I talked about in the last blog, is mysterious type of occurrence that seems to come from a combination of memory, knowledge, emotions and gut feeling. The thoughts “Something didn’t feel right” or “I just had a feeling” are often behind intuition. Many of us have had the experience of receiving a message or phone call right as we were thinking about someone. "I was just thinking of you!" we say, surprised by our own premonition.
Titled “Intuition Went Left” the artwork(s) I created today is shown in two versions. Intuition has no rationale and can’t be analyzed. If it can, then we call that Insight. Same constructed abstract in two versions. I finished the one on the right and liked its energy. For no apparent reason, I tried one more method – perhaps out of curiosity? But I did not feel curious, because I was anxious to be finished. Nevertheless the intuition to press on was sudden and within 10 minutes I had the one on the left, which I prefer, though some folks may prefer the other. This is a somewhat common experience for me. Why do I prefer the left one? I like the looseness of the virtual space and the colors feel more engaging for me. The left one by itself is titled “Envelope Mystery”.
Insight is more of a logical process, derived from seeing one or more alternatives of some sensory or mental experience. For example, think of a driver’s insight running a race car on a long flat road which turns into a steeply banked curve. A driver of very little experience might ask why the ride seemed a lot rougher on the bumps of the curve as opposed to identical bumps on the street road.
The insight is an “aha” moment, in this case the realization that centrifugal force of the curve increases the sense of the car's weight and abuses the car’s chassis much more. The sensory experience coupled to a reasoning power led to the answer.
“Consoling Path” from An Alien Gazes portfolio. This traditional image evolved nicely, though only by insight. I wanted to use color, but in a muted tonality, an insight from my very early work in black and white that I sometimes found austere. But images made in woods often are hard to compose so that the primary focal points stand out. Insight also said I could use a slight atmospheric effect to guide the viewers eye to what I want them to see first. A third insight about increasing the mystique suggested the use of the darkened edges of the image.
Inspiration, the subject of this blog, can happen from a variety of intuitive and insightful stimuli. A lot of times, seemingly for no explainable reason at all, one suddenly gets an idea that seems to have come out of nowhere. Was the idea just in the neighborhood, and decided to come knocking? Had it already presented itself to a bunch of other people looking for ideas before it landed on our front doorstep? Why did it choose us? Creative people have described such events, and wonder why the inspiration hits at the most inconvenient moments, as when we're driving, or (in Einstein's well documented case) in the shower.
The poet Ruth Stone describes being outside and seeing the poem come toward her. She would race to her house to try and grab a pencil in time to catch the poem as it roared through. Now that's inspiration!
In the movie “Shakespeare in Love”, the Shakespeare character bemoans the fact that he has lost his way creatively, and goes to a soothsayer to regain his “Muse”. The soothsayer gives him a bracelet that contains a secret paper with a name written on it, and Shakespeare is restored to his former creative self! I just wish it were that easy.
Inspiration is one of a number of ways that artists get ideas for what they are going to create, or how they will evolve what they are already doing. Inspiration can implement the onset of an entire new portfolio of work! Some creatives refer to this as a form of higher consciousness that propels an artist in the direction of a profound goal.
Artists can be inspired by things such as a word, a metaphor, a book, some music, a single experience or a lifetime of them. My father, a visual artist, said he would just let his hand wander on the paper until something started to take shape. Actually, virtually anything that can enter our senses may stimulate our creativity, even mundane things such as something you had for breakfast this morning or when you notice a paper bag rolling in the wind while blowing down the street. It doesn't have to be big or miraculous to inspire you to create.
“No Smoking Please” – From the project “The Soul of Vietnam”. Insight and intuition are at work here. A candid moment lasts a fraction of a second. Most of the time there is little to anticipate. But one can observe the action as it evolves, with long experience giving you an insight for when the peak of the action may occur. Is there an intuitive component? Maybe. After all, who directed me to look in that direction when there were twenty other people in the room I could also have chosen to look at during that brief half a minute. Unexplainable, thus my sudden redirected attention was intuitive.
Talking to other artists and examining my own experiences, I think the most interesting thing about having an inspiration is when your work has been progressing for a while. Everything is going pretty well. But suddenly you find yourself at a crossroads where one fork says continue as you have been doing, while the other says it's time to evolve your concept further. Sometimes you stop work for a good period of time, stuck in the creative mud, because the inspiration about what to do is simply not there. And maybe you have gone on to one or more other projects, and while in the middle of them the inspiration suddenly occurs, and you know what the solution is.
“Newswoman” – TV personalities face bright lights in the studio so here is the opposite. My intuition was that the many images we made together that day would focus on her beauty, which meant presenting something less wholesome and authentic than what I hoped for. Insights helped me as I negotiated my own feelings while working with her various self-made poses. In editing, I underexposed this one to emphasize her non-public side she kept more private, as most TV personalities find they must do. The second insight was for me to accept dark lighting and muted colors (atypical of me), to bring out more revelation of her inner self.
How hard is it to allow the inspiration in? I think it's relatively easy, though like all artists, I struggle with it now and then. If it comes to us in the silence between the thoughts, the key is to turn off thoughts. But I have found something as silent as meditation doesn't work as well as just slowing down my own thinking and leaving some mental silences here and there. But then, your brain may work differently than mine, and therein lies some of the magic of artistic creation.
Intuition, inspiration, and insight currently are affecting me a lot. I am at a stage with my Earth Air Sea portfolio project where my intuition tells me a lot of growth still must occur. I'm not sure how I will pursue that, except that I am getting little nudges every day from things I experience, so that at least I have some potential options I am thinking about. What I am waiting for is that final all-important tool, the inspiration. It's what I hope will open up in my head and heart one day, telling me which of the options I should use, and providing some rough ideas about how I can expand the way I use those options.
Assuming that happens, you will probably notice it if you follow my Instagram posts @lawrencedattilioart.
Attentive artists are quite aware of where they are in their inspiration voyage. It can be a constructive force, but it can also be an emotionally dangerous place in which to dwell. Hopefully, most artists don't feel they have to cut off their ear to punish themselves for not feeling that inspirational cloudburst when they think they most need it, as was the case with Van Gogh. It takes courage to find the inspiration inside you and run with it when it strikes, but to be patient with yourself when you come up blank.
For more about how to connect with your personal inspirational muse, go here: https://www.lisatener.com/2020/02/9-ways-to-connect-with-the-creative-muse/