Each of us is an artist. If you accept that art is defined as works produced by skill and imagination, then it makes sense to speak of ourselves as creating art in whatever craft we choose in life.
As artists in life, so many times we find ourselves seeking inspiration to create, and even on the most basic level– to produce.
What exactly is inspiration? What causes us to feel inspired?
At first attempt, I draw a blank in my mind when trying to describe what inspiration is. If you avoid reading the definition below…are you able to define inspiration?
I find it incredible that the word inspiration comes from the Latin word inspirare, meaning “to breathe into”. I more than like the thought of a muse, a higher power, or someone else’s creation– breathing the life of a new idea into my mind and spirit, and transforming my creative process.
Just what has inspired the great artists of our time and times past? I look to history for some clues.
1. Love in all its Forms
Love inspires artists, of course. Love comes in the forms ranging from the depths of friendship to engulfing amorous love. And women, in particularly, have served as muses for the greatest masterpieces ever composed in art, literature and in music. The beauty and mystique of the feminine mind and form has resulted in sensual, flowing brush strokes by the painter, magically woven words of the poet and rapturous notes of the musician. Women inspire qualities of passion or grace, and beauty and elegance. Examples of women who have inspired artists include:
Of course, even men can prove that inspiration may also be gender-blind. For example:
Lord Alfred Douglas/Oscar Wilde
When Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas had a relationship in the late 1800s, the playwright’s life changed forever and led to him being convicted of gross indecency. Even so, he expressed his art through the inspiration he received by his muse.
In Greek thought, inspiration meant that the poet or artist would go into a state of ecstasy or furor poeticus, the divine frenzy or poetic madness. He or she would be transported beyond his own mind and given the gods’ or goddesses own thoughts to embody.
In Christianity, inspiration is a gift of the Holy Spirit, with St. Paul saying that the Bible is inspired by God (2 Timothy). And in the account of Pentecost in the Bible, the Holy Spirit descended with the sound of a mighty wind to inspire the audience to trust in God.
Many times, simply a step out into a wooded forest, taking into the senses a serene coastal landscape, or even taking a walk and viewing a breathtaking outdoor city-scape can bring new life to a waning and dulling mind and serve as a real source of inspiration.
4. Life-Altering Events
Life-altering events are perhaps the most heart and soul rupturing, emotionally overturning, source of inspiration experienced.
Stories of people overcoming circumstances like being born with deformities, experiencing paralysis or amputee-type accidents, having a child with severe needs, and enduring war are a few examples of how conquering grave circumstances has the ability to become a source of inspiration for others. It is jolting to recognize that the adverse circumstance itself is able to become a source of inspiration.
Incredibly, a life-altering event can be as simple as someone believing in you or even you making a conscious decision to believe in yourself:
People may be primarily inspired to create/perform in order to accumulate large quantities of wealth. In this sense money is a sore and lack luster source of inspiration.
However, in another sense, the need for money as a bare resource can create a hunger in the lives of men and women and serve as an incredible source for the highest level of inspiration.
Iconic movie director Frank Capra’s (It’s a Wonderful Life) rags-to-riches story has led film historians like Ian Freer to consider Capra the “American dream personified.” Working his way up from a place of severe poverty, Capra has credited his adverse circumstances to be a key part of his success story.
At one point in Capra’s life when he was struggling to make ends meet, he got a job as a tutor for a musically talented boy named Baldwin M. Baldwin, the grandson of a millionaire. As Capra tutored Baldwin in academics, to Capra’s dismay, although he found the boy’s musical capabilities extraordinary, he realized that the young man had little chance of success, because in living a life of extravagance, there was very little hunger stirring inside the young man to motivate him to become great.
And perhaps you remember Steve Job’s instruction to “stay hungry”? Jobs gave insight to his own grassroots in a commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005:
My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: ‘We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?’ They said: ‘Of course.
My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
“But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5 cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I LOVED IT. ~Steve Jobs
6. Great Minds
While we could list the many great minds of history who have undoubtedly inspired multitudes, I find that the great minds that I meet in everyday life inspire me the most.
From poetry written on a random blog, to an enlightening story told by an old man waiting for a train, to a sister that shows unconditional love–these are the real life occurrences that bring me the most inspiration.
If we forget about qualifying what inspires us, surely inspiration first comes from within before it comes from outside sources? I think that a person must have the internal constitution to receive inspiration. And, once a person is ready to receive inspiration, then the inspiration will surely arrive.
Do you know what inspires you? Are you able to name your inspiration?