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What Inspires?

When talents  are channeled with passion into something that can be experienced by our senses, then, each of us can be 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 having potential to create art in whatever career or 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?


  1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative: “flashes of inspiration”.
  2. The quality of having been so stimulated, esp. when evident in something: “a moment of inspiration in an otherwise dull display”.

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:

Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) — A model at age 14 and the muse for many Surrealist artists of the 1920s. Kiki was Man Ray’s lover and he cast her in many famous photos and films, including Noire et Blanche (Black and White, 1926). Kiki was an accomplished cabaret singer, memoirist, and painter.
She was the wife of surrealist poet Paul Éluard and lover of painter Max Ernst.  But most notably, the Russian-born Gala Diakonova won the heart of Spanish painter Salvador Dalí, even though she was 10 years older than him. Dalí, was said to be a virgin when he was completely enraptured by Gala.  He painting her repetitively as an erotic goddess over a period of years…even as she aged.
Muse, former actress, and also wife of Italian artist Francesco Clemente, Alba Clemente traveled the world at her husband’s side, inspiring drawings, watercolors, pastels, prints, and paintings. Included in his self-portraits after meeting in Rome in 1974, she is often portrayed as Clemente’s female double or soul mate.
The Prussian-born Helga Testorf was a secretive model and muse for artist, realist painter Andrew Wyeth.  She became the captivating subject of Wyeth, her neighbor, for 15 years without the knowledge of her husband or his wife. Portrayed in 247 brooding portraits (with and without clothing), Helga became an American icon when she made the cover of Time magazine on August 18, 1986.

Of course, even men can prove that inspiration may also be gender-blind.  For example:

Johnny Depp/Tim Burton
These men made seven films together, including the art-house favorite Ed Wood and Alice in Wonderland. Quoting Burton, they communicate in a way that “wouldn’t really make sense to the normal person.” 

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.

Robert de Montesquiou/Marcel Proust, including others
Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac was a prominent 19th-century icon in high society circles.  He was a Savile Row clotheshorse and a talented decorator.  His strong and brilliant mind inspired many fictional characters, including Proust’s Baron Charlus in Remembrance of Things Past.

2. Spirituality

Rabindranath Tagore (May 7, 1861 – August 7, 1941), the bard of Bengal immaculately relayed the essence of Eastern spirituality to readers of his poetry.    Although he focused on God and spirituality, he  produced some of the most beautiful writings ever composed on the subject of love.

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.

3. Nature

Ralph Waldo Emerson introduces the idea that beauty is the part of nature and that beauty is a nobler want of humanity than a commodity which everyone must have to survive. Emerson advised that eauty in nature is not necessary for physical survival, but it is useful for its restorative powers.

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:


5. Money

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

Great minds are all around us. Photo by Danielle Zompi.

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?

82 thoughts on “What Inspires? Leave a comment

  1. Lover’s love inspire me, the chirping birds inspire me, friends betrayal inspire(in a bad way, of course), movies inspire me, a good book inspire me, paintings and photos inspire me and so on…

    • I liked reading your list. And I am reminded as I read your example of a friend’s betrayal, that Gibran said “For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as [love] is for your growth so is he for your pruning.” And so, perhaps even betrayal can be inspirational in the sense that you’ve learned to recognize and appreciate when you find truth in love and friendship.”

  2. Great list of inspirations! I definitely find inspiration from nature and love. Spirituality is a perpetual source of curiosity, which I guess makes it inspiring.

    Negative things like war can influence artists, too (actually money sort of works for that sometimes!). Some of the most beautiful art I’ve seen was born from an artist’s reaction to something vile. They often hint at a call to action or a hope for change. I just love that.

  3. I am inspired by the very idea that we can be creative, that we can wake up and add value to our lives by finding inspiration in the smallest of things. I am inspired by this post to think more about what inspires me!

  4. Loved that video… very, very uplifting…!
    What inspires me? Only me… I’ve never been inspired by others. I really enjoy what others do when they are creative and pursuing their goals however; that doesn’t inspire me to do anything; or if I follow someone’s lead, it is usually short lived. The inspiration I feel must come from a desire within myself, for myself. Only this desire is long lasting. Only this desire is satisfying. Only this desire quenches my thirst, so to speak..
    Great Post… 🙂

    • Hi Carolyn and thanks for the reply. I, like you, tend to draw on inspiration from within but I want to see what happens when I give myself permission to be inspired by other people-things-events. Will it work or will it be a waste of effort? This could be fun and even pleasurably enlightening. I’m so glad to exchange thoughts with you. ~S

  5. What a breath of fresh air! As an artist and a fashion blogger I am so thrilled to see a post revolving around the many permutations of inspiration. You have a new follower to your blog – thank you for reminding me to go back to the source of my own inspiration!

  6. This is a really great list! I think I’ve been inspired by everything on this list, at one time or another. On the Money point, I just wanted to add that sometimes you become inspired to create if you have hit rock bottom financially, because you simply have nothing left to lose. Especially during the Recession, I think a lot of great people have achieved success despite the odds because they finally just went after their dream and didn’t worry about the financial outcome if they “failed.” Now all of this talk of inspiration makes me want to go DO something! 🙂

  7. Oscar Wilde is a personal hero of mine, his vitality and passion in his story-telling and creativity in adapting societal happenings into satire is awe-inspiring, i think.

    the fact that he was able to transmit tales onto print and stage that were mocking the very audience lapping up his work makes him worthy of top kudos. that is, until they pegged and prosecuted him for being gay and integrating it into one of the greatest books ever written but hey! 😀

    thanks for the great post, really enjoyed how insightful it was 😀

  8. Was definitely worth the read! Definitely has motivated me to get all artsy, but more or so to actually look at what gets me worked up. Not too surprising that women are up there pretty high but hey, you have blessed me with a cool revelation about myself so thank you, sincerely.


  9. Hello, Ms Iconicallyrare…

    First off, thank you for the “follow”…Like you, I am an artist too, and I found writing as another rich avenue filled with possibilities to explore and create with words, like molding clay or wielding a pencil on blank paper.

    You asked:
    “Do you know what inspires you? Are you able to name your inspiration?”
    Yes, I do, Ma’m, and most of it you’ve already mentioned here. Except for no.5, money, everything inspires me, especially, no.1: LOVE.

    Truth is, one may experience the power of inspiration in love without even realizing it. That is, when one’s heart is filled with the innocence of sincerity, the strength and courage of honesty, and the overwhelming desire to own and protect and nurture the person, pet, or friend–without thinking of adverse consequences or harmful disadvantages to one’s life, goal, or career.

    I do not have a name for my inspiration since “they” come in varied colors and shapes, and in indefinite times–bursting like a ray of light to allow me to see with clarity my objectives, and without any compromise. Which also means, they are not always the same ones coming back to brighten my artistic endeavors in life. I guess this was due to my pursuit of several creative disciplines, from painting, graphic design, illustration, animation, advertising, and now, writing.

    I can relate very well with Andrew Wyeth’s reclusive affinity with Helga, and through her, his inspired paintings coming to life. Their relationship was almost scandalous, yet to “own” her as his inspiration in continuing his masterworks, became imperative if not necessary till the end.

    Interesting post, Iconicallyrare–as interesting as the name you chose, yet more than beautiful is the avatar you chose.

    More power, and all the best!

  10. Love is a strong inspirational muse. The most vibrant and vivid poetry I’ve created has been with inspiration fueled by love rather than a cause, or just writing it. But the other forms of inspiration are spot on as well. I have written when inspired by nature…many times, and spiritual matters have also caused inspiration. I have written once or twice from a life altering event, but some song writers/musicians will use this inspiration as their MAIN source, only they usually will combine life-altering events and love, thinking they are always the synonymous. Usually they are being dramatic, ha.

  11. I love the message you close on… being ready to receive is very important…I believe the more we’re in practice of being in that ready to receive state, in that space of clarity and connection to Source the more frequently we find ourselves inspired.

    This post is very interesting, a feast!! Thank you for your recent interest in my blog…very kind of you!

  12. Thanks for following my blog. I get inspired by that alone. My inspiration comes during my morning run, where my brain can get fresh air. My dog always comes with me and makes me smile. He listens to all my crazy ideas and wags his tail. I guess that’s inspirational too. My husband’s constant encouragement inspires me to try harder as an author. Thanks for the thoughts this morning.

  13. Thank you for stopping by my blog. Inspiration is a funny thing…I often don’t know where mine comes from. I know much of it stems in classic rock and “oldies” music. The evolution of rock ‘n roll fascinates me, and it’s a huge thematic undercurrent for the novel I’m working on.

    This is a great post…such fascinating people in the world. I loved the part about the ancient Greeks going into a poetic “frenzy.” Can’t say that’s ever happened to me…kind of wish it would though…how cool!

    Love the blog. Now following.

  14. Wonderful article on inspiratioin I really enjoyed reading it, lots of good food for thought. The one thing that comes to my mind when I think about inspiration for myself is resting between creative projects. Also having moments of quiet to fill the well so to speak. I find this helpful the rest and the quiet in between the creativity. :+)

  15. Much of my inspiration comes from seeing or experiencing nature. I’ll be on a walk and a word will flash into my mind or I will see something that triggers thoughts and feelings. Sometimes totally unrelated to what I’m looking at. Great article!

  16. A beautiful article. It inspires me to write a couple of lines on leadership. It is said that leaders motivate their followers but it is great leaders who inspire followers. Inspiration comes from within and is perhaps ignited by a cause much higher and beyond their own personal goals.

  17. I love this article!!

    I am inspired most by others, 100%. People inspire me. All kinds of people, not just the great minds, but everyday people. Friends, artists, the world around us, and all the needs of people, their desires, what makes them tick, all of it… I have a strong desire to share myself with others- sort of like using people as a sounding board? Like most artists, I have a strong point of view, and I think there’s this intense need to share your ideas, thoughts, & point of view with others… And then when they respond, you learn from that, and sort of come out looking at things from a new perspective and maybe understanding yourself more. I definitely feel inspiration is a 2-way street. I need others to have it. Its that simple.

    But, when you have an idea, that’s only the beginning… You must then find MOTIVATION to put it into a piece of art, or put it into words, or whatever you medium is, you know? For me, the motivation comes from within myself. Sort of like, “OMG I have to do this now.” And, not looking back or to the side or around you, just focused on this one thing you have to do right now before you burst. That’s how it works for me.

    Thanks for making my wheels turn!!

  18. Very inspirational! What inspires me is something I think about all the time (hence, the title of my blog). I really enjoyed the visual images you included too! Definitely inspirational & thought provoking.

  19. You`re just amazing, I really love your blog and I believe it would be quite interesting to meet you, I feel,through your posts that You`re special .Take care and have a nice day:-)

  20. Hi Sonya!
    Thank you for dropping by my blog.Glad I found your wonderful blog.The list of inspiration is just wonderful.Talking about Tagore, the pride of India and Bengalis,his award winning Gitanjali was born after the most rough patch in his life that included the death his son,wife,daughter.Tagore experienced pure divine bliss twice in his life that inspired many of his writings that followed.To me, the most interesting read of the post was about Kahlil Gibran.Got to know immense facts about Gibran from this post.You have detailed the post wonderfully.Will keep coming for more.


  21. My husband and I met on September 11th, 2001 in the ashes of the World Trade Center. What’s that phrase about God hitting you on the head with a brick? (I think Steve Jobs may have said that too) …well, we had a fairly literal interpretation of that ‘message from above’ on that day.

    Realizing that life could change on a dime, that afternoon I left my 20-year career in advertising and my fat paycheck behind and decided I could no longer wait another day to do the things I always wanted to do. I took my first writing class the next month and what started as an assignment from that class went on to become a bestseller.

    I married my one true love who I fell in love with on that day. I am now a full-time writer, a good mom, a good cook, good tender of the Earth, a good friend and open to the world.

    It was a tragic day for so many and it changed my life forever.

    • I am so moved by your response that I gasp a little and my heart speeds (can feel the bumpity-bump bumping faster).

      I lift my {imaginary} glass to you and say a toast while looking into your eyes — “Here’s to all the courageous women in the world”. There are no regrets in taking courage because going against your core instinct guarantees regret.

      Through your courage you have set yourself, your abilities, and your talent free. Beautiful. Inspirational. Vital.


    • Well, of course…wanna know the story behind the credit given to the photo (stop reading here if your brain is tired)?

      I wrote Joel to get permission to use this art… and he didn’t respond. Apparently “Disentralled” (online literary project) used his work to write 5 poems around his visuals.

      In Joel’s announcement in his blog of the above mentioned facts, I became confused as to whether this art is Joel’s or actually, instead, it is Disenthralled’s Literary Project cover-art…so I gave credit to both sources.

      Whew…anyway, yes, feel free to use this amazing visual as you please. ~Sonya

  22. I study military history a lot and I’m not sure whether one would categorize the men and women who lead well as inspiring by being “great minds” or by being “loved”.

    I remember working in a warehouse after college and the top manager was able to get more effort out of everyone by inspiring us. Sadly, something about his technique changed and a year later, his efforts seemed contrived and no one was inspired. I’m guessing that somehow he had made us all feel part of a team and that love of “team”, however ephemeral, served as inspiration.

    An even more unusual example is New York Jets football coach Rex Ryan. I wrote about him in 2011, “Rex Ryan is loud and foul-mouthed. He’s grossly overweight and rarely exhibits grace or class. So, he’s not at all the kind of leader that I’ve striven to be. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about him if he wasn’t a brilliant and capable leader. He excels at an emotional form of leadership that absolutely brings out the best in his team.”

    Inspiration can come in many ways, and in unexpected places.

  23. Your comment triggered a thought that maybe there is a line that can be drawn between:

    * one who provides inspiration, and
    * one who provides aspiration.

    If I see a woman on a train and she is filled with life with shining eyes and notice her words seem wise when she speaks, then I am inspired by this woman. And, I even remember her for years after the encounter.

    If I experience a stern mentor who is a master in his field, then I feel a sense of respect and am honored to be his student in life, and he helps me in my aspirations in life.

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that each person may develop one or two or both parts of himself…one part being the amour de soi (lit. pure “love of self”), and the other being the amour-propre (or pride and esteem).

    Neither amour de soi or amour-propre should be classified as good or bad, for each serves its purpose. But, he recommends that we view our amour de soi as a parent over our amour-propre.

    My instinct it that those who inspire appeal to the amour de soi part of ourselves. And those that “give us aspirations” appeal to the amour-propre side of ourselves.

    Fantastic thought-churning comment and I especially admire the final sentence in your reply.


  24. Great expose on all things “inspirational”. In particular, I especially love the section on “Life Altering Events”. The tribulations of life can often seem overbearing. But they can also prove to be an amazing time of inspiration and creativity, provided we are open to the possibility.

  25. mmm, love/nature/great minds/coffee&cigarettes are my most common inspirations. great list, each part made me think of a specific moment or feeling of inspiration 🙂

  26. Simple things such as putting my barefeet in clover inspires me…Life is a gift and the little things are way more meaningful than the huge overly expressed things and this could be my southern nature in aging and in wanting a path of traveler’s happiness and peacefulness now…An excellent writing…

  27. Hello! I wanted to thank you for the follow. (Thank you!)

    And now I’m conflicted between keeping my mouth shut and speaking my mind. And I never could keep my mouth shut. I would like to return to read more when I have more time, and then perhaps I will see things differently. The thing is, I agree with the intent of your post, I see what you’re getting at, but I see art, inspiration and creativity as distinct things. I do not believe everyone is an artist. (I would go so far as to say that making that claim devalues the term and the concept.) There are those with a natural talent for art, and those who have spent long years honing their craft. I think the term belongs to them.

    As I say, it’s quite possible I’m being unfair here, so take this with a grain of salt. Perhaps when I can come back and dig deeper, I will find we were on the same page all along!

  28. Pingback: Anonymous
  29. I can find inspiration almost anywhere, but I’d have to say that my biggest inspiration has been trying to figure out how my mind works. At a young age, my mind was essentially shattered, and was never properly dealt with due to circumstances. This has led me to searching through art, writing, and music for the pieces that make ‘me’ so I can (hopefully) reconnect them. It is my hope that what I discover about myself, my past, and how it has affected my mind on all levels (esp emotional) will help shed light on some of these disorders so that another will not have to share my hell…
    Lofty goal? Yeah, but that’s just how I am!
    Great blog btw, have really enjoyed it!

  30. Inspiration is to me, the sparks filling the air from a roaring campfire on a windy night. Most flare and then disappear; a small few find a reactive lodging that takes their fire, amplifies it in small or great degree and thereby converts it into something else, another useful servant maybe or perhaps some ravening demon…

  31. Well it’s not generally people that inspire me. My mother did, and some other (long) dead people do, like Aristotle, William Clark and the mountain men, Jack London & Twain. But it’s really nature, the living Earth, the Universe and all that is great and glorious in it that sends my spirit soaring. Nice post. .

  32. I love the name of your blog and really enjoyed this post on inspiration. I’m impressed by the way you make use of photos, quotes, and video with the text knitting it all together. I’m honoured to have you following my blog. Thanks so much for your support.

  33. Great post filled with thoughts to inspire…Inspiration is all around us on a daily basis but that which inspires one may not necessarily inspire another.

    Thank you for visiting catnip and following catnipoflife. Otherwise I may not have connected with you. I greatly appreciate the following and will be following you:>)

  34. Interesting and in itself, quite inspirational! There’s a pretty interesting RSA animates talk on money as a reward in relation to inspiration, might be interesting. One thing I would have liked to have seen is women and their muses too. I know it’s not anywhere as well documented (I’m sure you’ll find more paintings of muses than work by female artists in most galleries), but I’m sure they exist!

  35. when I was younger than stories and novel used to inspire me but now dont have much time to read em so movies do. We all arent artist. True artists never hurt others without defensing even some dont this too, look all people what they do. You find a big difference.

  36. So lovely!
    Life is pretty inspiring, ain’t it? Which pretty much encompasses everything and nothing, all at once. We live in a full world.

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