Thursday, October 24, 2013

Finding Inspiration

One of the reasons that I started this blog was to document how living on Lopez might inspire my artistic self.  The quiet, peace, and calm have certainly created an atmosphere for working and weaving.  The rocks and driftwood have found their way into my creations.  The beauty that constantly surrounds me makes me want to create beauty as well.

But what inspires other artists?  And what about those times when inspiration is as elusive as the fog that has settled on the island these last few days??  A post that I read recently by Marc Moss ( lists a few ways to find inspiration.  Happily, I'm not lacking in inspiration at the moment.  But I'm going to keep this list handy for sometime in my future when things feel forced and new ideas are evasive.

8 Ways to Find Inspiration
        Every day most of us are challenged to use our creativity in some fashion. Maybe we need to become a magician and meet an impossible deadline, or figure out how to make six rolls of sod cover an area that needs eight rolls. Or maybe we’re staring at a blank computer screen, a new text document page open, cursor blinking, awaiting our fingers to touch the keys in a stroke of genius to write that winning proposal, that amazingly heartbreaking poem, the next great American novel or a Grammy Award-winning song. The blank canvas awaiting paint. A glob of clay awaiting shaping. A difficult conversation with a spouse or mate. Whatever creative challenges we each face during our daily lives, sometimes we get stuck, find ourselves in a rut, and allegedly unable to get to the next level. We are uninspired. How do we inspire ourselves? Recently, I received an email from a friend asking that very question. “How do you find inspiration to create?” he wanted to know. He was embarking on a new project and had hit a wall. I thought that it was courageous of him to ask someone like me, an unknown artist on the other side of the country, for advice. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve talked with other musicians and artists and asked them where they find their creativity and inspiration when they’ve got a block. I’ll focus this How to Find Inspiration article towards artists, but it can be applied in many different walks of life.

1. Deep Observation. Of self, of your surroundings, your thoughts, goals, successes and failures. I like to start outward and work in. Grab a notebook or sketchpad and head to a place that inspires me. Sometimes it’s out in nature, near a river or up in a mountain. Other times, it’s as an unnoticed face in a crowd as I people-watch. I write down thoughts and ideas as they come to me, and I go back later to reflect on the initial bursts of idea in more depth. I think about how the external themes I’ve recorded may apply to me, and then eventually ask myself how those themes can be expressed with intimate personal depth but still apply as a universal truth.

2. Other Artists. When I feel uninspired, I go to the library and sit on the floor with art books sprawled around me. I always like to choose some favorites, and a few that are unfamiliar. I keep a notebook of ideas that sometimes includes rough sketches of an idea, but always a line or two about a project I want to start. Sometimes, it isn’t the library, but the Internet where I look at inspiring artwork. Drawn!, Flickr, DeviantArt, PhotoJojo, a random Google search, The Wooster Collective, or even a place like Bighappyfunhouse. In the case of my friend, the musician, I’d try head to the record store and browse via the headphones music with which he’s unfamiliar. Ask friends to make mix CDs of new music that they’ve been listening to with which you may be unfamiliar (so that you can use it as a jumping-off point for your own creativity, of course, not to pirate music. And, if you like the stuff on the mix CD, go out and buy the original). Go see some live music of bands or genres with which you aren’t familiar. Always explore the unknown genres of art, music, whatever when finding yourself uninspired.

3. Other Types of Art. If you are a visual artist, go listen to some live music or see a play. Watch a ballet. Check out some performance art. On a budget? Check your weekly independent newspaper, often there are many free cultural events happening around town that you can take in and help fill your creativity cup.

4. Collaboration. Nothing fuels creativity like collaborating with someone else on a piece of art or a project. The major challenge when collaborating is to let go of all expectations, and allow the process to create the art along with you. It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve ever tried, but when it works, it’s a lot of fun and also very rewarding. One of the big problems for many folks when collaborating, including myself, is not only letting go of expectations, but also of ego. When you collaborate, you have to be humble and open to new input and the ideas of others.

5. Experimentation. I work a lot with collage and abstract paintings. A while back, I was tired of the art on my walls that I’d made, and tired of what I was producing. I had some huge canvases that I’d gotten for free, some time on my hands, lots of paint, and no ideas. I decided to try something I’d never done. They reason I think that the paintings were successful is that I gave myself permission to fail. Sometimes in life you may think that you do not have that luxury, but, as James Joyce said, “A man of genius makes no mistakes, his errors are volitional and the portals to discovery.” By experimenting and playing, I found some things that worked that I knew I could apply in the future, and things I didn’t like so much that I likely won’t try again.

6. Deadlines. Sometimes, there is no way around it. You have to git-r-done and you have a specific cut-off point that if you miss it, you could die. Figuratively, of course. The death might be one of public embarrassment, missing a deal at work, or closing doors in the future. Last year, I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to make art, so I created for myself a deadline. I agreed to do an opening in June with a very short notice. I pulled it off, and the June show lead to a July show, which led to an August show that bled into September. With each show, I learned something about the process of putting a show together, but I also found myself feeling more creative and making more art.

7. Money. There is no way around it, Shakespeare’s got to get paid, Son. There will always be rent or a mortgage to make, car insurance, utilities, groceries. A person needs money to live. And sometimes when I know that I can make money by making a certain piece of art, that motivates me to make the art. If, after I’ve made it, I think it has any less passion or is in any way inferior to my other work, I don’t continue down that path. But money can be a strong motivator and inspiration.

8. Nothing. Sometimes there is absolutely no way I can get motivated or inspire myself. It’s at those times that I “just show up”, as was suggested in The Artist’s Way. Show up at the page. Write. Paint. Collage. Sing. Whatever your chosen art, show up at your specific “page” everyday and make your art. Practice makes perfect, and repetition breeds habit. Habits breed lifestyles, and if you are an artist, it is a lifestyle choice. I met Garrison Keillor once at a reception in Akron, Ohio after having heard him speak, and, at the time, I fancied myself a writer specifically. I was not focused at all on making visual art. I asked him, “What advice do you have for an aspiring young writer?” He said, “Write.” That’s it. Do it every day.

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