Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Inspiration -

Where does it come from – and where does it go to?

I often hear or read of artists saying that they are, at the moment, lacking in inspiration. But ‘inspiration’ is a word that I’m very hesitant to use because I’m not sure how to use it correctly. In fact when, some years ago, a friend drafted an Artist’s Statement for me, I particularly asked him to avoid using the phrases ‘inspired by’ or ‘ gets her inspiration from’ because I felt that wouldn’t be an accurate description of what needed to be said.

One dictionary definition of ‘inspiration’ is: the act of drawing in, especially the act of inhalation of  air into the lungs and I think this literal, physical definition is a good one because it describes taking something from outside of us (the air) and pulling it inside us (into our lungs). And probably this is the way that ‘inspiration’ is  generally used – ‘she is inspired by the wonderful scenery’, or ‘he was inspired by the characters of the people he met’. Something from without sparking off a reaction within us.

My difficulty with using the word is that I’m pretty sure that for me it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s more of a two-way process, although I don’t entirely understand it.

I live in Abergavenny, a little old market town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, nestling between three mountains, Sugarloaf, Skirrid and The Blorenge. Inspiring scenery indeed and I love it! And yet, I have hardly ever painted the  mountains. I’d be a lot richer if I had as I’m told that’s what the tourist want. It’s not that I don’t like the mountain scenery. It’s wonderful to be able to walk to the top of Sugarloaf or Skirrid for all sorts of reasons – the splendid views, the fresher air and the feeling of being ‘on top of the world’.

The photo above is of Sugarloaf, seen from the top of Skirrid, 
or The Holy Mountain, as it is known locally.

And yet, I rarely  feel ‘inspired’ to paint the mountains! 

This pastel painting of the Brecon Beacons, from a photo that I risked life and limb to take from the middle of the Brecon by-pass, is hardly the sort of the thing the tourists are looking for!

It's more of a 'design' really - it might look quite good on a tote bag or some kind of holiday souvenir but as a painting it doesn't fit the bill!

I can look out of my top windows at the majestic Blorenge Mountain and observe the changing colours, the play of the light (in this case on a dusting of snow) and feel a sense of wonder and yet...

 ....it’s The Meadows at the foot of the Blorenge that I keep painting! (Also not particularly popular with the tourists who have come to a little town that advertises itself as 'Markets, Mountains and More'!)

On another day I may turn round from the glorious view of the mountains from my windows and find that a corner of my bedroom is begging to be painted! There is nothing special about the corner of the room but somehow, it ‘speaks to me’, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious!

So I think there must be something inside me that responds to some ‘views’ and not to others, and that can vary from day to day, from month to month and even from year to year! One day the path to my garage seems to insist on being painted, on another day it is just the path to my garage, even though nothing has changed about the path or the garage, or even the light that falls on them. Both the external and the internal have to be in line with one another for a painting to occur. A kind of ‘receptive seeing’ has to be in place that I don’t think comes with trying to 'see'. It either comes or it doesn’t!

More than forty years ago, when I was teaching in a big school on a huge council estate, sometimes I would go out with my paints and sketch book in the lunch break and paint the back-alleys and the backs of sheds and garages in the drab built-up area around the school.

What was that all about! 

Inspiration, – ie the right external conditions – is, I think, only half the story; the other half depends on something else, something internal. I’m not sure if there is a word for it but it’s why I’m so reluctant to use the word 'inspiration'. Maybe the internal part is what we mean by the word Muse ( ‘guiding spirit’ is one dictionary definition).

When the Muse is in residence, who knows what outer ‘views’ will inspire us? But when the Muse has left us – and that can happen for all sorts of reasons – we are completely closed off, unreceptive, to the most ‘inspiring’ of our surroundings. It can be rather like looking at the world through the murky, mud-spattered window of a fast-moving train! And that can have implications for how we can recover our ‘inspiration’.

Pablo Picasso said: Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.

Does this point to the answer?



Ulla Hennig said...

Having read this post one answer I can come up with is: inspiration is when something inside you answers to something outside. I can look at many reference photos of animals, and then suddenly one of them says: "Draw me!" It may be the way the animal looks at me, or is situated in a certain way on the photo--something touches me and makes me want to "do it".

Country Mouse Studio said...

Judy and Ulla you have voiced it perfectly and I'm glad to hear others feel the same. I spend more time trying to find something that inspires me to paint then I do actually painting,and if I find something today and don't paint it today chances are tomorrow it means nothing and I can't recapture it.
Another interesting post, Judy.

Judy Adamson said...

Ulla - you've said in one sentence what I 'went all round the houses' to try to work out! Thank you!

Carole - glad you found this post interesting. I think it's always reassuring to find others feel the same way! I wonder whether 'trying' to find something to inspire you is counterproductive? (I'm not saying it is - just wondering!)