“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.