Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Art: Inspiration

A few of my current works in progress

“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work” - Chuck Close

I’m always asked about how I come up with my ideas and where I get my inspiration. I keep coming back to this quote by painter Chuck Close. I think inspiration is one of the biggest myths about being artist - one of those mysterious notions that artists like to perpetuate. It makes the artistic process more enigmatic.

In part, I blame the Greeks and their idea of the Muses - divine goddesses responsible for inspiring the arts. This idea of inspiration as a divine and external intervention has been perpetuated up until this day. And it keeps a lot of people, even artists, from realizing that they have something unique and valuable to say. Many of us think of the tortured and tormented artist struggling with his or her demons to bring into being the great poem, the grand novel, or the earth shaking painting. Art becomes a cosmic struggle.

But that’s too simple, too overwhelming, and too paralyzing. Waiting for inspiration to strike is like waiting for lightning to strike - the odds are stacked against it occurring. Not that it won’t happen. People get struck by lightning everyday, especially when they’re holding onto a tall metal pole on top of a hill during a lightning storm. The odds go up. Artistic inspiration is like that. If I wait for it to strike, I sit around for a very long time staring at a blank page, canvas, or paper waiting for this divine idea to strike me from the ether. And nothing happens. But just as I recognize the conditions that increase the likelihood of lightning striking so that I can avoid it, I need to recognize the conditions that will increase the odds of “inspiration” striking. I need to set up those conditions.

But still, I don’t like the word. It’s too loaded. And it’s too easy to slough off the complete lack of making as due to the lack of inspiration. Days, weeks, months can pass, and I am still waiting for the Muse to show. It becomes a convenient excuse to pull out in my dry, unproductive times. It is easier to bemoan the fact that I have no inspiration, that my ideas aren’t good enough, and that my ideas are dumb, stupid, redundant, and unoriginal than to actual shut up and get to work.

But what many of us forget at times is that there is no inspiration. There is only the work. If I show up to the studio, to the journal, to the blank page and get to work, the work leads to ideas. The work leads to more work. Most of the time I have no idea what is going to happen. I may have an inkling about color, theme, or shapes - but no fully formed idea where I know exactly what it will be. If that were the case, why make the work. There’s nothing to discover. Nothing to learn. Nothing to excite me. Nothing to motivate me.

But I start with a mark unsure of where it will lead. I start with a color unsure of what the finished piece will be. But that’s the point - not to get caught up in the product. It’s about the process of discovery. If a piece doesn’t feel like it’s going in a direction I like, I may start again or I may embrace this piece as a challenge to overcome. Often, I start several pieces at the same time as I play with variations on a theme. Not all of my beginnings end in finished pieces. Only a fraction do, but the work leads to work. As I work, the momentum builds, and before long, I have, perhaps, a single piece that is working while the others stall. The individual pieces may stall, but the work doesn’t because I’m always working on multiple pieces. I can jump around and do a little something to one piece and a little something else to another. I can come back weeks or months later to those stalled pieces and find a way of resolving them, or I can leave them unresolved if their not working out. It’s all part of my process, and I still have learned and discovered something.

I do have my slow and unproductive periods, and I have my bouts with self doubt and stagnation. But working through those times in the journal keeps me engaged in the making and not sitting around for inspiration to knock on my door. I just have to remember that there is a natural ebb and flow to the art, but it all works out as long as I stay engaged.

Not only must I show up. I have to get to work.


Brian Kasstle said...

It is so true. Show up. Do the work. Over and over!

I can't wait for your new book!

Melissa said...

Thank you for this. I needed the reminder this evening.

Erin Keane said...

I like this tidbit from the blog "In the Make" when they interviewed artist Gabriel Schama:

What advice has influenced you?

I’ve been told to keep in mind that I’m not Picasso, and that very few people are, and that I’m probably not even any sort of genius, and that the only way to make up for it is to work my ass off.

Robin said...

so thought provoking for me..love what youve put out there...found you through Leslie Herger on Google +...Nice to meet you..!

Eric said...

It takes work. I guess that's why they call it artwork not artplay.

Robin, glad to have you here.

Daisy Yellow said...

I've had your post open for several days, waiting for a moment to take in this post. You've put the thoughts spinning around my mind into words. The work does lead to more work, because it's all exploration, experimentation, not exactly knowing what will happen when this meets that or that covers up this.