Inspiration comes to us out of the blue ….sometimes. 

“The Winged Chair” Cast Carrera Marble in Resin and Fibreglass 2013, by the artist.

But there are other times when we are being given a challenge.  We reach a point in our development when the old solutions to the same old problems seem meaningless.
You might remember the film “chariots of fire”( the title is from the William Blake poem “Jerusalem” where it says “bring me my chariot of fire”)  about two brilliant runners who  were pitted against each other by the  British press and the establishment. But what made both of them win Olympic gold medals in their respective events was not competitiveness alone…. it was in fact their convictions. One, Abrahams , a Jew, runs to defeat prejudice and Liddell, a Christian, runs for the glory of God. The superb music by Vangelis captures the awe inspiring efforts of both men. The film itself wins several academy awards because it connects completely with the emotional needs of its audience.

Chariots of Fire, Main Theme ,Vangelis
Another example…. this time from the life of Johnny Cash, also the subject of a recent movie. Cash is attempting to record his first disc in a recording studio,  it doesn’t go well.  In fact he’s about to be kicked out of the studio when an exasperated producer says to him ” Johnny, what if you were told you were out in that gutter dying and you had time to sing one song, people would remember before you’re dirt …. that’s the kind of song that truly saves people”…. the rest, as we know is history,  but he defined his whole creative life in that one moment. It was the way he sang many songs after that.  It was the way he eventually overcame alcoholism. One of his renditions of the nine inch nails song “Hurt” just before he died is one of the most moving performances many people have heard. All the more more meaningful because of his struggle to overcome his weaknesses. That, and knowing he had not long left to live in the world.
Scene from “Walk The Line” “if had time to sing one song”….
The sculptor Rodin said that sculpture was 20 % talent and  80% hard work. His passion to create drew inspiration on his passion for the human form. But he was sparked into life as an artist when he saw for the first time the  dying and rebellious slaves by Michelangelo  when he travelled as a badly paid craftsman to Italy half starved and worn out from the journey. (Rodin was a late starter, as an independent artist he worked for pittance doing vases and ceramics for a number of years). When you look at Rodin’s work you can see he found the source of his inspiration in those stones.
Michangelo’s Slaves
Marina Abramovic. A contemporary performance artist made her name when she performed a piece ( “rhythm 0”,  1974… itself influenced by Yoko Onos “Cut Piece” 1965 )  when she stood in a room motionless. Beside her a table upon which were a feather, a scalpel, a gun and a bullet amongst other things. At one point a member of the viewing public loaded the gun and pointed it at her. Another actually cut her with the scalpel. A beautiful woman, she made beauty itself the subject of her life’s work. or perhaps to be more accurate, it was the vulnerability of beauty.
When you become an artist you start out as a sprinter full of ideas and enthusiasm. But (unless you are one of the rare few to get their break while young ) after a few years, when you notice that not many people are noticing how wonderful your work really is, you discover that being a sprinter ain’t going to cut it anymore.  Life is full of endless necessities and many more important priorities (such as rearing children and paying the mortgage ) that will always (rightfully) distract you from that finish line where ever it has gone to. It’s seems to have disappeared into the distance!  Then it dawns on you ……   you have to be a marathon runner to be an artist.
And then why bother? You have your emotional needs and energies met and absorbed by your family and (if you are lucky) you have a good job  to support your material needs. So why make fine art? It couldn’t pay your bills on its own, not unless you became more commercial an understandable compromise, even a necessity. Perhaps like me your compromise was teaching, something that absorbs a lot of energy making finding time to be an artist hard but at least more part of the deal. But it didn’t solve the problem of how to find inspiration. In fact comfort seems to inhibit the arrival of a theme,  a message, a purpose,  a cause , call it what you will, but it’s an essential ingredient in the life of any truly successful artist.
And what exactly is it…. and how do you find it?  Well, when every other reason you might have for making art is gone the one that you are left with is the one that may be it. Let’s face it, there are few rewards for wanting to be creative in this world. In fact if you are honest you might say that the last thing the world wants is an individual creative thinker. I would even go to say that being truly creative is in itself a subversive act in this world. Especially  right now. There seems to be a demand now for more “practical” people job providers, business ideas men, or so, on the face of it , it may seem.
So “Whom does art serve?” (This is a quote from an essay I read on this subject written by Brian Cleeve). Not the artist, for them it seems to spell frustration, long hours and many disappointments.  Fame places it’s hand on a very few. But why then, why be an artist when sometimes it feels more like a curse than a blessing to have this desire to create something new, something original … maybe even one day ….something beautiful?
Luxor statues of Rameses II
Unless… unless there is something potentially good about being an artist, unless perhaps by being an artist in the right way you might actually bring something good into the world.   But how does that work? How do you do that?  A lot of art seems to be about the darkness rather than the light. Abramovic as I mentioned earlier simply stood in a room as an artist but seemed to unleash the darkness and even the sadness in people. Though someone did eventually come and stop the person with the loaded gun.  What is it that art does anyway? Why do people react so strongly to it? What does it mean?  Well for thousands of years artworks have stood in the service of people in so many ways, as political propaganda, as status symbol as religious icons as a testimony to individual achievement, or artistic prowess or both. Sometimes it’s seems that art exists for arts sake as if art was an idol to be worshipped. A god in itself. In fact the truth is that at the moment making art is for many people taking the form of a religion.  Performance work is full of ritual and ceremony.  New painting influenced by materialism and false nietzschean notions about the power to will seem to hail art as an end in itself.
There is a possibility though that there is another function for art to be other than a thing in itself. By making art the artist seems to evoke in the viewer a response that is  unpredictable and unique. It’s as if what an artwork really does is hold up a mirror to the viewer of what possibilities there really are. A painting can open a window unlike any other, through that portal the viewer sees something unlike anything else. In a world of limitations suddenly we can see possibility, standing in a street of muted tones, through a picture frame we see a grey city come into being bursting with colour through the eyes of the artist. We see Rouen cathedral change it’s colours as the time of day  passes by through Monet’s eyes. Suddenly the everyday facade of this building trembles with energy, vivid and alive.
Golconda by René Magritte
Take a street as painted by Magritte.  There the businessmen of the 1930s in “Golconda” appear like droplets in the sky raining down on the unsuspecting workers below.  Who could have had such a thought? To see men as myriad as rain. An insight into something deeply thought provoking, a little unsettling and yet somehow true and real in its expression of the fact about what we make ourselves to be, about how we unbecome. A reminder of how we are really more and not carbon copies of one another pouring like an endless downfall onto an un-natured world.  “Look” he says…. “this is the danger. We are more than mundane.”
Behind the work lies truth.  Nothing but paint or stone, bronze, or performance but a cup into which is poured  a semblance of reality that is outside of the one within which we reside.  It seems to point at another world, fuelled by the pure energy of the imagination.

And what is that world? Where is that world? It certainly does not seem to be here! Sometimes when we look at an art work we are like a fish getting a photo of the world outside of it’s pond. We hardly understand it. We might even say that world is not real but yet for centuries we have been reminded of its presence and one of the ways that has been done is by using art to do it. One might ask , is there a connection between this world and the presence of inspiration? Are they intrinsically linked?

Is art a means through which we receive information about that world? Is this where our ideas are really sourced as Plato believed? From my own experience of art making and teaching over the last 30 years I would say…… yes, without a doubt. In any case it makes sense that the wellspring of creativity resides not in our world but elsewhere. Yes, we can be inspired through the beauty of nature in our world. But the key word there is “through” the beauty. The beauty of our world reflects an even deeper beauty as a crystal clear mirror does. Real “Beauty” always seems to remain beyond our grasp. This is a sentiment spoken by many artists and writers about the ephemeral nature of beauty as it appears to us. When we do come face to face with any beauty it almost makes us sad because we know it is fleeting in nature. The beauty of the body fades with age , a flower disappears with the end of its season. the sun rises and then sets again. When we come through a beautiful landscape we have to head back to work

True Beauty would have to be everlasting, it would have to be eternal and sublime. As everything in this world is in constant state of flux as Herclitus says. The Poet Manly Hopkins puts it into one sentence in the title of his poem “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection” . It is at this point that we must consider what it might mean for inspiration to be sourced in a real world beyond our shadow imitation and how this affects our availing of it.

There appears to be two types or two interpretations of inspiration to my mind. This tends to be based upon the person that is availing of it. From the world we are in we are used to saying things like …” This is a good Idea” or, “this is a bad idea”. We seem to be aware on some basic level that there are differences in the quality of the idea and therefore we might say that there are two different sources of inspiration. That there are good ideas and bad ideas. Speaking within the scope of this essay obviously there are choices to be made as to which source to listen to. This seems to depend upon the person listening to these sources.

Lascaux Cave Paintings

So a person is like a channel. The channel filters the idea into this world. The quality of the channel may well affect the quality of the idea that is been filtered. This is not a new concept. The making of art finds its origins in the caves of places like Lascaux and in the rock paintings of ancient Native Americans. Clearly there was a shamanic function in the creation of those images. We know from studying remote cultures within our own recent centuries that artworks like these have a specific function. This is a magical function normally to obtain power or dominion over perceived spirits or the spirits of animals such as bison who were hunted for essential survival. Sometimes also objects were made that were fetishes to house for a time a particular spirt in order to access some power that the spirit was believed to have in this world. The shaman was the channel of this power and depending on his or her character they could use that power for the good of the community or even to gain personal power for themselves. Within this ancient structure lay the template for art making. If the shaman was corrupt he may also corrupt the power to benefit himself. The magic of art making lay in the makers relationship with the sources of Inspiration.

In those ancient times the existence of those sources and their influence was hardly ever called into question. Up until relatively recently in our history those influences were known as good or evil. The etymological root of the word inspiration means …..

“c. 1300, “immediate influence of God or a god,” especially that under which the holy books were written, from Old French inspiracion “inhaling, breathing in; inspiration” (13c.), from Late Latin inspirationem (nominative inspiratio), noun of action from past-participle stem of Latin inspirare “blow into, breathe upon,” figuratively “inspire, excite, inflame,” from in- “in” (from PIE root *en “in”) + spirare “to breathe” (see spirit (n.)). ,”

also we might look at the meaning of “spirare” spirit…….

“mid-13c., “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from Anglo-French spirit, Old French espirit “spirit, soul” (12c., Modern French esprit) and directly from Latin spiritus “a breathing (respiration, and of the wind), breath; breath of a god,” hence “inspiration; breath of life,”

So the word inspiration itself hold a deep and influential meaning. To be inspired is in one sense to have to breathe life. To make art is to breathe life into what we are making. ……. to be contd

The Egytptian god Khnum moulding man on the potters wheel from clay while Heqet (identified with Hathor) with the head of a frog (the Egyptian symbol of fertility) “breathes” life into the form as it is born using the ankh.

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