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The Nature of Inspiration (I)

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Inspiration was a favorite topic in most of the filmed stories of artists and writers I watched on TV as a kid, and naturally Hollywood did its best to glorify and accelerate that exalted state.

But first the creator (whether artist or writer) had to go through a harrowing period of waiting for inspiration to strike, during which all creative work ground to a halt. Cue the anguished groans of frustration, the pacing back and forth, and the tearing-out of hair…until…SHAZAM! The lightning of inspiration strikes! Fade to a series of rapid-fire montages of: furious activity — writing, painting, whatever; exhibits, stacks of best-sellers flying out of the bookstore; money piling up; the tuxedo’d artist/writer drinking champagne; and everything running as if on rails straight to Success…fade to new shot of large mansion.


The Creation of Flowers by Eric Edelman, RetroCollage

This view of inspiration was fun. It was attractive. It was the way I thought about inspiration and the way I wanted inspiration to hit me. I believed in it for many years…

The only trouble was that it was dead-wrong.

Inspiration doesn’t work that way. Not for me, and, I suspect, not for many other people. It took me many years to undo the damage done by this myth. The progress of my rehabilitation from Inspiration Hollywood-Style was considerably slowed by passing through my adolescence, since I could always attribute my teenage listlessness to feeling “uninspired.” Eventually I felt so uninspired that I stopped making art altogether for quite a long time.

When I finally found my way back to art, my beliefs had changed radically. I’d met several artists who were very hard workers and didn’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike them. I’d renewed acquaintance with Joseph Cornell, Max Ernst, and the Surrealists, as well as meeting the Fluxus movement for the first time. I discovered the rubber-stamp art movement, began carving my own, and overhauled my outmoded concepts of what constituted “legitimate” artistic activity. Eventually I quit painting and printmaking to return to collage and assemblage, which were my first loves and my original motivation for wanting to be an artist.

Finally I’d realized that I’d been putting the cart before the horse. Inspiration didn’t jump-start work; work jump-started inspiration. No sane artist would waste years waiting for inspiration to strike.

My next post will explain what happened to change my outlook.

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