“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”

– Henri Mattise

What is inspiration?
How do we find it?
How does it differ from impulse?
Is it necessary to be inspired to make good art?
Is it something that we can create or do we have to wait for it?

Artists want to feel inspired. We don’t always feel we are. Maybe most of the time we feel we aren’t. We look for the telltale signs – we’re excited about something, we feel the need to create, our attention is focused, there is a “quickening of all man’s faculties” (Puccini).

Many of the great artists I’ve read about second the sentiment Matisse expresses above – you have to keep going, keep working, even when you do not feel inspired. Somehow that process invites inspiration, or at least allows it to occur. I find that the more I expose myself to art, whether by doing it or seeing it, the more the opportunity for inspiration occurs. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, humbled or intimidated by the excellence of others, but eventually those contracted emotions subside and I can step into the creative stream whose shore I’ve been standing on.

Inspiration can be initiated from something outside of us, or from inside. My favorite work has been done when I felt inspired – I can’t think of much I like that was done when I was in the inspirational doldrums. Sometimes what I create when inspired doesn’t satisfy me either. I usually don’t doubt the inspiration but rather my ability to process it properly. This is a frustrating feeling, as it feels like an opportunity lost.

Sometimes in retrospect I realize I wasn’t really inspired but rather was acting on impulse. Some new idea intrigued me and I went with it, but these impulses usually die out quickly. It’s clear that it wasn’t true inspiration, it didn’t have “legs” and my poor results weren’t due to lack of technique or execution.

I think true inspiration is a particularly individual event. It’s one which is a result of our efforts and some good luck and, when it occurs, is a current that we should ride for as long as we can. It’s one of the ways in which we can truly feel alive. The chance to feel inspired may be one of the main reasons we seek to create art.

14 responses to “Inspiration

  1. This is image is totally satisfying to me. The way you integrate the “cracked flesh” with the textures in the background, the counterpoint I see between the black “figure” (I see a female, even though it may be just my eyes) in the background and the human figure in the fore. The swirl of white movement tying it all together.

    I find myself curious how your process of posting images and commentary works. Do you have one first, and how does the other follow from it, or independently of it? I ask in part because when I post an image, somehow I find myself at a loss for words to connect with it. (Btw, I still haven’t posted more on my art blog…. but the Angelica Kauffman novel is going up today!!)

  2. These are all difficult questions at the beginning of your post and I am not sure that I have any spontaneous answers to them. My own experience with art won’t help either… I must confess here that I NEVER fell inspired. Impulsed, yes. This might be the reason why I never consider myself as a “real” painter.
    I have experience in another field where i can really say that I felt often inspired, and this is mathematics. This is the reason why i think that before anything, i am a mathematician, but not a painter. Many don’t accept these words from me, but I have known myself doing mathematics, and this was truly a qualitative difference in the inspiration, the engagement, the motivation, and the satisfaction.

    Trying to answer some of your questions I would say that inspiration is an associative chain reaction leading to an impulse of creativity and sometimes even creation. This is perhaps how i would make the difference between impulse and inspiration. But of course, this can be silly what I say, it is just a spontaneous feeling.
    I believe in good art under any circumstances, even without any inspiration at the basis. Pure technique, for example, can produce good art, I think.
    I don’t believe we can create inspiration, I have the feeling it is more something like an accident, an unplanned interaction.

    When i look at your picture today, I definitively have the feeling of it having being created under inspiration.

  3. I suppose inspiration is like happiness. there is no inspiration only MOMENTS of inspiration. And Matisse – an artist I greatly admire and trust – is right. Like appetite, inspiration cannot come but during the working process. Since I’ve started with paraphrases, I wpould also say, like Ernst Gombrich, there is no art, only artists…

  4. And yes, great art work (since I’m not sure it’s digital art, collage or painting + collage or digital work. Whatever technique it’s great… I like the “peeling walpaper” texture… gives image “patine” and makes it interesting for the eye…

    I remark you have a tendency to compose your work mainly on the right (my right) portion of the image… Could it be you are a left hand writer and draughtsman?

  5. Jude

    I’m glad you like this one – I’ve been working with it for awhile. I, too, see a figure in the painting portion of the image, at least some long legs!

    To answer your question about the relationship of the image and the text, I actually do not try to connect them. I have had the same experience you mention, where when I do try to connect them I come to a standstill. It’s hard enough to think of something to write for me so I just post the images somewhat randomly. I feel a little sheepish about that but it’s what works for me.

  6. Miki

    I’m amazed that you never feel inspired as an artist – your work betrays you! Though maybe that is one aspect of inspiration, that it is only an experience the artist themselves has and is not ever part of the piece itself. I have a different feeling about a piece that was created when I felt inspired than one that, while technically proficient, didn’t give me that feeling. The art itself may be just as good, perhaps just that my experience of making it was qualitatively different.

    I do agree that we cannot create inspiration directly, but I believe we can create the circumstances where it is more likely to occur. Too bad life sometimes doesn’t make that easy!

  7. Danu

    I like that quote of Gombrich’s which I’ve heard before. No art, only artists… I think it gives a lot of importance to the act of making art and the experience of the artist, not just to the end result.

    Interesting observation about my tendency to place things on the right. I’ll have to watch that! You’re right, I am left handed. As is Susan… Our two sons are right handed. We’re constantly having to move the mouse on the computers…

  8. I don’t know why, but I had never suspected you and Susan being left handed! Although I surely noticed in in Susan’s video and forgot it again!
    Don’t ask me why, but I am REALLY amazed about this point. I must have thought that left handed people paint and think very differently from Susan and you! Funny, isn’t it?
    I am right handed but love the idea of placing things on the right, at least when these things are living creatures. It is the idea of them escaping the frame/jail of a canvas or piece of paper. And leading the observer’s imagination out of it too…

  9. I also really love this image. It has a fascinating emotional tone to it. The cracked skin about how hard it is to be in a body sometimes (obviously I’m not always “in” mine!). But she’s flowing, in spite of or because of that powerful black being behind her.

    Fascinating discussion about inspiration. I find that it come and goes constantly and I’m always sad when it leaves – so I guess Danu is right that inspiration is like happiness.

  10. My middle son Theodore is left handed (I’m right handed, so is my wife).

    I didn’t mean to say the right sided compositions aren’t good, of course… but it seems I was right about your left…

  11. I really like the red shape and the darker almost figural shape below it with the vertical slashes next to it; that’s to the left of the top of the figure. I have an older cousin who I guess you could say is a successful painter, and when I was talking to him once I said, ‘once I get started painting I could go for hours non-stop, but the hard part is motivating myself to sit down and actually start.” and he just laughed, and said “yup”. LOL!

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