Thursday, July 25, 2013

Inspiration, Who Waits For Inspiration!

The subject of inspiration seems to come up quite a bit. Students ask me where I get it, friends complain about not having it, it's usually a question in interviews, and books and movies about art dwell on it. But what exactly is it, and what causes it? Honestly, I have no idea. I think someone made it up because it sounded good.

My favorite quote on the subject is by Jack London:
     “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

The truth is, you don't always have inspiration and you can't wait for it. Anyone who makes a living from the sale of their work knows this. I realized this very early on in my career. When I was in art school, I wasn't always interested in the model that was posing and I quickly noticed that I did far better drawings when I was interested in the model. I'd like to add here that it had nothing to do with physical attraction. Very often a young pretty girl would be posing and I'd do horrible drawings, and other times we would have a fat, bald, guy and I would have a great drawing day.
What I was interested in, even back then, was figuring out how to "turn on" for lack of a better word, the "inspiration" on the days when it didn't show up. I figured that if the inspiration wasn't real, maybe I could fake it. I began reading acting books. What I found was the best book I have ever read on art, a book called "On Acting" by Sanford Meisner

As I continued to study I  realized that inspiration was a complete a myth. I don't believe the word is used correctly at all and I would say that painters who claim to be "inspired" are actually just motivated. Before I go on lets actually take a look at the meaning of the word:

Inspiration -
1. a : a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation
b : the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
2. the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs
3. the quality or state of being inspired

Inspired - outstanding or brilliant in a way or to a degree suggestive of divine inspiration.
 to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on.

Motivate - 
To provide with an incentive; move to action; impel.

I don't know about any of you but motivated is a far better description of how I actually work then inspired. I know we are basically talking about word usage. It's the same as misusing the word "awesome"  That apple pie was awsome!!!!! - No it wasn't...It may have been really, really,  good, but unless it grabbed the ice cream and did a waltz on the table, it probably wasn't "awesome".

The main difference is that "inspiration" by definition is given, "motivation" is up to you. It can be found, and created, called at will, you carry it with you. I don't think it comes from someone or something else. There is no metaphysical superstition in motivation and admittedly, it doesn't sound as impressive. If all of the creepy painters or lame photographers out there were to approach a woman at the supermarket with "I am highly motivated to paint you" no one would do it, they would walk away laughing, but hit em with "I am INSPIRED by the heavens above and all of creation, to make a nude painting of YOU, or just take some slightly tasteless pictures, and Whamo!!  -you have yourself a model.

"I recently made a comparison of painting and cooking where inspiration is the recipe. You can sit around and wait for someone to bring you an apple pie, hope the restaurant you are going to has one, or you can break out the recipe, go and get the ingredients and make one.

When I am working on a still-life, I don't wait for the skies to open up and a voice to say "GOOOOO PAAAAAINT APPPPPLES.....again" I get up, go to the grocery store with the intention of painting something, and then I look for something I want to paint. The motivation comes from seeing something I want to paint. An apple with certain spots on it or a funky stem. An odd shaped pear, etc, or anything with personality. Sometimes, but not often, the grocery stores have nothing I am interested in, and then I just pick something out and go to the acting. I can't afford to just say oh well, no inspiration at the grocery store today, guess I will just go home, watch movies and eat Cheetos.

Anyone who has ever done a commission has woken up in the morning on at least one day of it and thought "oh geez, I don't feel like working on this today"

What makes you paint when inspiration doesn't show up? Motivation.
And I find motivation everywhere. Most people motivate me to paint, vegetables, things I see in antique stores, tea sets, eggshells, movies, the ocean, and on and on. Motivation is everywhere!!!
The idea of just painting to get better is motivation enough most of the time, and it doesn't matter what I paint, just put it in front of me and I'll paint it!


  1. I really like your comparison of cooking and painting! Good post, I never really thought about how misused that word is.