The truth about art inspiration + how to find inspiration and stay inspired as a visual artist
Do you search for inspiration in art or just wonder what art inspiration really is?
Inspiration is a topic of common concern among artists. If you're one of them, you must have felt inspired many times before. But you’ve likely been feeling uninspired too, and you may have wondered what inspiration is, where and how you can find it, if inspiration is real, and whether art needs inspiration at all. As we all know too well, feeling uninspired and empty can be discouraging and demotivating for a visual artist. Nonetheless, understanding what inspiration really is can help you feel inspired again.
This blog post provides you with essential knowledge about art inspiration, which includes:
Myths and truths about creativity and inspiration in art,
A definition of inspiration for visual artists,
An explanation of the difference between creativity and inspiration, and
The key to how to get and stay inspired as a visual artist.
Creativity and inspiration beyond the myth
Creativity and inspiration in the visual arts are often subjects of mystification. As John Berger wrote in his book called Ways of Seeing, mystification obscures the true meaning of things and explains away what is otherwise evident. It disempowers. In contrast, demystification sheds light on the true nature of things and clarifies them. It’s amazingly empowering!
False beliefs about creativity and inspiration in the visual arts are often the reason for feeling uninspired. They're also a hidden cause of artist block. In this section, I’m going to demystify creativity and inspiration so that you can reclaim your creative self-confidence and start feeling more inspired next time you'll make art.
Here’s a typical example of mystification:
Artistic creativity is a spontaneous, autonomous, irrational act. It is an irresistible urge, which comes about by enlightenment. It doesn’t necessarily require observation of the empirical reality, and it is not reliant on previous practice or training. Artistic creativity pours out of the soul.
Art inspiration is a stroke of a genius, a great idea coming as a sudden insight, a strange intuition occurring as through magical intervention, a bolt of lightning that strikes at its own will. Artists can only be creative when inspiration strikes.
That’s by far not all. Quite often in my life, I’ve seen “appropriated resources” being used as a means to unlock creative power. I’ve often stumbled upon the misconception that making art “on an empty stomach” may never lead to the heights of inspiration, nor may it help artists produce outstanding works of art.
Can you relate to these myths? Do they make sense to you? I hear you saying: “No. They’re rather discouraging and hopeless. They sound exclusive and alienating.” I couldn’t agree more. These are false beliefs that do nothing else but put you off. If you feel uninspired or even stuck with your art, then this kind of approach to creativity and inspiration kills your slightest chink of light.
Whatever the composition of this toxic cocktail, it's like a wall that blocks your sight. Myths about creativity and inspiration in art play a major role in artist block, generally in subtle, subliminal ways. Let’s dismantle this wall piece by piece and build your creative courage in its place.
The good news is that, irrespective of the external factors and one’s physical and mental constitution, creativity and inspiration are inherent to every human being, including yourself. In other words, they’re always there. You’re naturally creative, and there’s a deep source of inspiration inside you, which only needs to be tickled and activated.
The question is: how open and sensitive are you to the gentle voice of inspiration? And what do you do when you feel inspired? Do you act on your inspiration or do you ignore it?
What is art inspiration?
Inspiration, inspire, spirit, inspirare, spirare, spiritus … The word “inspiration”, which has a long tradition within art history, goes back to the Latin word “inspirare” (“to breathe” or “to blow into”), which derives from the word “spirare” (“to breathe”).
Inspiration is the energy you absorb from the things and people that seem important to you. Inspiration is what you breathe in when you connect with the things and people you love. That fires you up and puts you in the mood for creating art.
It's like when I am by the sea and I breathe in the seawater's vitality and beauty. I start feeling inspired. Inspiration begins to talk to me with a soft voice and, if I take immediate action, my inspiration unfolds and my creativity follows suit.
Listen to the gentle voice of inspiration that comes from within, act on it as soon as possible, and you’ll feel more and more inspired. That will have a domino effect on your creativity, and your artistic process.
Inspiration and creativity
There's a close connection between inspiration and creativity. I like to picture them as a beating heart symbolising life itself unceasingly breathing in and out.
Inspiration is the subtle information and vital energy you take in from the things that talk and seem important to you. Creativity is the vehicle of your creative energy. It is the arms and legs of inspiration that makes everything become literally (and physically) possible.
You don’t have to search for inspiration and creativity. You just have to find them within you. You are life itself inhaling subtle information and energy, and exhaling personal expression and vitality into this world.
If you'd like to dig deeper into the relationship between inspiration and creativity, liten to my podcast episode with Susan Hopkinson, yoga practitioner and teacher.
How to get inspired
Inspiration combines a vivid interest in something (anything) with close observation and a steady artistic practice. Everyone has his own interests and ideas. Each one of us takes a vivid interest in a thing, concept, person, topic ... If you stop searching outward and start looking inward; if you move from everything outside of yourself into your inner zone, which is the actual real, then you'll get inspired. Guaranteed.
1. Start with a thing that talks to you
Switch off your mind for a little while and just look around you with genuine eyes. Wherever your are. What talks to you? A branch, a leaf, a drop of dew, a cloud, a sandcorn, or maybe a smile ...? Open your heart, let yourself be enchanted, and observe what draws your attention in that unique moment of mindfullness.
Then take immediate action. Explore, experiment, play ... Don’t be afraid of the process but engage fully with it. Follow its thread and don't think about what you are doing. Just do it for as long as you can.
2. Be one with the object of your contemplation
Irrespective of the topic, materials, and tools you use, your perception is unique. There’s no separation between you and the object of your contemplation, whatever that may be — a branch, a leaf, a drop of dew ... As soon as you’ll have taken that in, you’re one with it. You'll experience then a sense of expansion and you'll understand what it means to be within yourself and in the world outside you at the same time. You'll experience what it feels like when, from your creative centre, the inner and the outer become one.
I love the ocean — I wonder at its depth, vastness, and force. I love to paint water, waves, fishes, corals, seaweed, and seashells. I simply need to express my genuine fascination with its infinite beauty and that sense of freedom and limitless opportunities for exploration and discovery, which the ocean gives me.
When I dive with my imagination into deep waters, I dive into the depth of my Self, and I become one with the ocean. I'm the ocean, and the ocean is a mirror of myself. My perception of the ocean is the ocean that is a mirror of myself. The ocean and I are therefore one. And the action of my hand on paper describes a never-ending flow, like a wave following another wave and yet another wave, and so forth ...
3. Observation and perception
Let's look at how observation and practice foster creativity and inspiration.
Observation is both conscious seeing and a creative act.
Conscious seeing means looking slowly and deeply. It means wondering at things, seeing beyond appearances (i.e. beyond the physical forms and their contours), and being mindful about it. Conscious seeing means unlearning your conventional way of seeing, changing your perspective, and beginning to see differently. I urge you to practice conscious seeing and to repeat the cycle regularly.
Observation is a creative act, too. Every perception is a creative act through close, mindful observation. Your inner perception of things is essential — it's your signature in this world. You have the ability and power to co-create your reality, for the world is an expression of yourself.
Every perception is self-expression and an opportunity for self-exploration. Your eye is the entrance gate, the brain is your repository, while your heart, your creative Self, is the true, inexhaustible source and motor of your art. Artistic creativity is the connecting channel.
Be an active watcher and a permanent snorkeler of the world. And remember what Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his book called The Little Prince :
“One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
How to stay inspired
Once you’ve turned inward and you’ve begun to observe and listen to the things that talk to you, commit to a steady artistic practice. Get out there and work (e. g. doodle, sketch, try out new brushes, experiment with a new set of colours, prepare for your upcoming exhibition). Stay committed to your artistic practice.
The more you work, the more inspired you’ll feel. The more you’ll play with the things that talk to you, the more creative you’ll be. Yes, you know it, it’s called “the snowball effect”. And it works!
On the other hand, you should accept that inspiration depends on your physical and mental condition, too. Besides that, the state of your body and mind is joined to daily influences from social, cultural, geographic, linguistic, interpersonal, and emotional dynamics, to name just a few. That is to say, you’re not feeling inspired all the time (nobody does, by the way). This is absolutely normal and unquestionably human. Accept it and be consistent, though.
A short recap
You don’t need more inspiration but you need a more conscious wholeness — a raised awareness of your deep connection with your creative Self and your inner source of inspiration, which is always there.
You also need an open and active ear that hears the gentle voice of inspiration talking to you. And you must take immediate action in response.
You can access inspiration in 3 steps.
First, realise that you are not separate from it: inspiration is always within you.
Second, start with something that draws your attention, that talks to you, and take immediate action.
Third, focus on your creative process not on the outcome, and have fun with it. Play and never stop playing.
Don’t mind if your works “are not good enough” or even “failed”. Keep going, stay in the creative flow, and let your inspiration unfold.
Larry Poons, an American artist with a solid vision in colour, rightfully said:
“A failed painting is better than one that’s just plain bad. The failed painting is one that could have been great.”
Is inspiration real? Yes, it is as real as the voice and vital energy of the things talk to you, and as real as your response to them. It is as real as your close observation, vivid interest, and steady artistic practice altogether.
Does art need inspiration? Art certainly needs a close relationship between you and your creative Self, a sharp sense of observation, a genuine interest in something, literally anything, as well as consistency and a steady artistic practice.
Don’t wait or search for inspiration. Find it. Within you.
Thank you for reading till the end!
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Recognise your pointlessness, and keep creating!
From Germany with love,
What to read next
Need to better understand artistic creativity and the difference between creativity and inspiration? Read my blog post: Creativity in art: the ultimate overview to understanding the foundation of your art.