The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

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This article was written by Liz Hill – new staff Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board.

This past Sunday, I put my shiny new Art Gallery of Alberta membership to use – something I hope to make a weekly occasion. I have my favourite artistic styles and movements, but I enjoy many kinds of art on different levels. Interpretation, analysis, and criticism are all good fun to me, but I purchased my student membership at the AGA in part to facilitate a less intellectual, but no less important, side of my relationship to art.

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When I go to a new exhibition I will read all the informational plaques, scrutinize the works through my art history background and knowledge, and, in general, try to understand them. I enjoy this, but that intellectual part of the gallery experience is not so much different than what can be accomplished with a slide projector and a good lecturer, or a big glossy Taschen coffee table book. What makes visiting an art gallery so beneficial for me is the sensory and psychological experience: to be in a quiet environment designed to focus a primarily visual, and perhaps spatial, experience, and to engage with a form of expression that, whether it is beautiful or ugly, complex or simple, is nearly wordless.

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As you stand in front of each work of art, the ebb and flow of time is dictated by your own attention and engagement with the particular piece and the moment that encapsulates it and you, not by a schedule composed of half hour comedies and hour long dramas, or chapters of approximately twenty five pages, or hour and twenty minute classes divided by ten minute intervals. In these moments of purely visual attention, there is no multitasking or overstimulating background of digital notifications. Most importantly for me, the linguistic filter of analysis and categorization that overlays all day to day experience for us overly-intellectual types falls to a quiet background hum.

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Getting tangled up in the words in our heads is an occupational hazard for students, academics, introverts – anyone with a commitment, whether personal or professional, to Figuring It Out. The It that needs Figuring Out could be the meaning of an obscure Middle English text, the inner workings of the earth’s tectonic plates, or even one’s own inscrutable subconscious. The problem is the same though – for all your hard toil in the realm of abstracts, and all your moments of brilliant insight, your ideas don’t add up, your thoughts run in circles, and you’re left bound up in the tendrils of your own overworked mental processes. Whatever conclusion you were seeking is more obscured than illuminated by all your thoughts and words and logical reasoning.

I could put this frustrating situation down to the inadequacy of language to express truth, and accept that truth is either ineffable or non-existent and become some peculiar Postmodern mystic. Perhaps I will take that path in retirement, but for now I am practical. I am a student and a writer – I deal in words and truth-seeking and telling for a living. I live and work in my head, so I must make it a hospitable place. This means periodically clearing away the mental detritus, all those thoughts and words and logical tricks that have embedded themselves like weeds and grown around my mind like morning glory.

This is where the art gallery comes in, and the need to find a refuge from words, even as someone who lives in a world more made of words than atomic matter. For me, the focused visual experience of looking at art clears my mind without dulling it. My intellect is engaged and works away in the background, while my consciousness can relax and appreciate the moment. For others, physical activity might have this effect, or working with one’s hands. As we begin to approach the peak of the school term, I think it is important to remember to make time for these sorts of activities, so that when our minds need a break from all the words words words, we have some more refreshing options than another night with Netflix.