Oh Inspiration, Where Art Thou?

A few days ago, as I contemplated different ideas as my possible first blog post, I slowly became inspired by… well, inspiration itself! And no, I’m not being redundant.  Let me further elaborate on this.

As I had had this “figure out my first blog post topic” task on my to do list for the last few days (which I can now luckily cross off the list!), I set out to ask some of my closest friends if they had any suggestions I could add to my brainstorming list of ideas.  A couple of them mentioned I should write about what and who inspires me, and more specifically what inspired me to start this blog. I, of course, said I would consider that idea (mostly out of appreciation for their trying to help), but must admit I had pretty much dismissed it almost immediately.  However, as the conversation on inspiration carried on with one of my aforementioned friends, and as I realized that’s what I was actually looking for at that moment, looking for inspiration to hit me so I could start writing, I found myself wondering about that little and often elusive word: inspiration.

I’ve certainly heard it millions of times, it has become commonly used by most people, and I have undoubtedly used it myself quite a bit, but truth is I never really thought about what inspiration really means. Up until now my concept of inspiration could basically be summed up like this, inspiration = getting a cool idea about whatever. So, for the first time ever the three following questions popped up in my mind:

What is inspiration?

Where does it come from?

Why do we constantly, sometimes even desperately, search for it?

Of course as I often do when searching for answers, I resorted to what has become my (and granted most of the world’s) primary source of information, Google. Which incidentally led to a couple of my other frequently used sources of information, Dictionary.com and Wikipedia.

The definitions of inspiration on Dictionary.com were rather repetitive (“something inspired as an idea”, seriously Dictionary.com?!), so I decided to look up inspire instead. To inspire means to fill, exalt, produce, arouse, to influence, to animate as a feeling, thought, or the like, does; it also means to breathe into or upon, to breathe life into; and finally, somewhere in there, it also mentioned this definition “to guide or arouse by divine influence or inspiration”.

Then, I moved on to Wikipedia, which provided a list of topics that inspiration or inspire may refer to, and I decided to click on Artistic Inspiration, which is really the type of inspiration I’ve been wondering about. “Inspiration refers to an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavor. Literally, the word means ‘breathed upon,’ and it has its origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism.” Basically, it’s the same definition provided by Dictionary.com, just better articulated. However, Wikipedia provided a brief history of the concept that I found interesting.

Inspiration throughout history has gone back and forth between being considered a divine gift and a mere human thought process. From ancient Greece up until the mid 18th century, it was considered to be strictly of mystical nature, a gift from the gods. Then came the Enlightenment Era with all its rational thinking, and inspiration became purely human, something to be influenced by natural and developed faculties of the artist. Shortly after, with Romanticism, both ideas seemed to merge a bit when the concept of genius as “the god within” was introduced; it located inspiration within the personal mind but still positing a supernatural quality to it. Finally, in the  20th century, the modern concept of inspiration was introduced by the Freudian thinking current, locating it in the psyche of the artist, even deep in his subconscious. However, regardless of inspiration being considered mystical or human, it has always been understood that it is desired yet involuntary and uncontrolled, and it has been associated with madness and irrationality; the stereotype of an artist as a wounded, tormented soul has always been present. Nowadays inspiration is not frequently studied, but it remains seen as an entirely internal process.

That was as far as I was planning to go on my little research on this topic when one of the friends that suggested inspiration for this post sent me the video of Liz Gilbert’s TED talk from 2009 where she talks about, you guessed it, inspiration! (Side note: Liz Gilbert happens to be one of the people that truly inspires me). In her talk she also goes thru a little recount of the history and fun facts of the artistic creative process, but she’s particularly concerned with the historic idea that creative artists need to go through torment and be tortured by this process in order for the outcome to be any good. She claims that although she wouldn’t propose we entirely go back to believing in the ancient concept of inspiration as a divine only matter, she does suggest that the modern concept of inspiration as an exclusively internal human process and the pressure this puts on the artist might in fact drive the person to become the ultimate stereotype of the mad tormented artist. Her solution to this dilemma is to reconcile both concepts somewhere in between, where inspiration is neither completely external nor internal, but a meeting of both, a collaboration of the artist and “the strange peculiar thing” that is not quite the artist. And after talking about a few artists’ beliefs and experiences with this kind of notion, she shares her own experience on deciding to talk to “that thing” while writing Eat Pray Love and telling it “I am putting everything I got into this, so if you want it to be better, you gotta show up and do your part of the deal… and I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”  According to her, this experience completely changed how she looks at her work and her own creative process, and helped her find peace in it.

As a result of being faced with all this information, and trying to decide which option better suited me: (a)inspiration is external, divine only; (b) inspiration is internal, entirely located within the human mind; (c)inspiration is both external and internal, a collaboration of the divine and human; a light bulb went on inside me (inspiration itself perhaps!) and provided me with my own answer- (d)all of the above!!  So here is my newfound belief when it comes to inspiration, and it’s pretty simple, inspiration… is… everywhere. It is external and divine as part of whatever creative force put the galaxies, the universe, and all of us here in this time and space. It is internal and human as part of our own creative power, which we use constantly to, well, create (art, products, our lives!). It is a collaboration of both, but not in this way of one creative force meeting another, but more in a way of one being the other! Everything in this world is made from this creative energy that put us here, whether you think of it in spiritual terms (as in God/Allah/the universe/insert-your-word-of-preference-here made us and He/It lives in us and all around us), or scientific terms (as in The Big Bang theory states some really hot and dense energy expanded and converted into subatomic particles that we are all made of). Therefore, if this creative energy is everywhere, in us, all around us, connecting us, then my conclusion is that so it’s inspiration; and maybe when something or someone inspires us, they’re just serving as an access point to this energy that binds us, of which we take its creating power to create something of our own, and hopefully releasing it back by having our own creation inspire someone else.  Maybe that’s why our ability to relate is usually a good source of inspiration, because we recognize in some outer form what’s also inside of us, and that energy moves us. Maybe this realization will make inspiration more accessible to us, if we are able to consciously look at the world in this state of connection, of oneness. Moreover, if we manage to do this, then Liz Gilbert’s statement of showing up and doing your part in the creative process seems even more profound; it means inspiration awaits us everywhere, at every turn, and it’s just our job to show up and recognize it.

So, now that we are well acquainted with the concept of inspiration, whatever meaning you choose to give it, whether you agree or not with my new idea of it, just be prepared to see the word ‘inspiration’  in this blog a lot, as I will be sharing with you anything that inspires me, from people and stories to music, pictures and quotes. And please, oh please, share your own inspirations with me.

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19 thoughts on “Oh Inspiration, Where Art Thou?

  1. It might sound a little cliche, but I always find inspiration on sunny days, when you can go out and go sightseeing, or maybe sit on a coffee shop and people watch. Diversity is so interesting. I guess that’s why I love traveling so much.

    I also find inspiration on music, fashion, and cats!!! LOL :)

    Great job, friend!

  2. Thanks getLoWorld! Glad to know I have your editorial approval, hehe

    Gracias Norma, que linda!! Hope my next post can live up to the expectations =P

  3. Creo que la inspiración nace de perder el miedo de pensar diferente, salir fuera de nuestros esquemas y limitaciones, de no dejar de sorprenderse por cada detalle en nuestras vidas y todo lo que las rodea.

    Todo empieza con una idea que se contagia en el pensamiento de los demas causando inspiración.

    Buen trabajo friend.

  4. Love the idea of recognizing ourselves in other people. Most of the time, when we feel inspired by others, we are recognizing there is something better in ourselves. After all this time, I’m glad you finally did it. Congratulations on your first post. I definetly recognize there’s something better in me thanks to you. Keep us posted. Literally. 😉

  5. I find myself inspired by cerulean lately. You see, I started oil painting lessons a few months ago and this particular color opens my mind to a very mystique universe of tones,
    Best of best for you in this project Abril,
    Big hug.

  6. May sound very corny but LOVE is my source of inspiration.
    I read your definition about inspiration and immediately come to my mind a thousand thoughts that inspires and helps me to do what I love. Chocolate, boyfriend, family, my pets, travel, fashion, yoga, swim just to name a few is what I love to do and is what inspires me to be happy every single day.

  7. Great first post, Abril! Henri Matisse, the famous French modern artist, once said “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” So keep on working, as you write you’ll get all kind of ideas, and here’s the perfect place to share them with us. Congratulations!

  8. Inspiration, is what is within you or outside of yourself and makes you do creative things & good things for yourself or other people. When people are inspired is fulfilled of joy and happiness. :0)

  9. Hello Abril,

    I found the topic of this post very interesting, and we discussed this same concept a lot during my masters in writing. What is inspiration? I guess the general conclusion they taught was: “5% inspiration, 95% transpiration”, meaning that to write a good story, to get “inspired”, one has to have some “butt-time” and just set to write. To stare at the white page, not at the facebook, or the chat, or the news, or the drink of coffee, or the infinite-distractions.

    I would like to mention to you the book of Olen Butler, “From Where You Dream”. Of all the books about writing I read, this one is my favorite. Unluckily I don’t have it here right now to quote some of my favorite passages, but I can sum up what he says about inspiration and writing: he talks about entering the fiction dreamscape to write, a kind of concentration-meditation: the mind strays following a line that gets translated into words, sometimes efficiently sometimes not.
    Talking a bit more about what he mentions on the book — which relates more to writing as a craft than to your post, but I think you might find it interesting — Butler proposes also that, on writing, one should focus on the sensory details, and he mentions, “language is not sensual”. That means that, whatever comes out of this state, needs to be re-read with a more critical eye, taking out what is not sensory, not helpful for the story, and making phrases grammatically strong, and beautiful, “the beautiful sentence” of Prose.
    For Buttler, writing is very related to film. Not only does this dreamzone relates to a cinematic view in the mind, he also makes emphasis on the movement closing in or furthering apart the POV to the characters and details just as the camera on films do. He even finds the montage. Changing the focus is something that comes more or less naturally depending on what you want to write, but montage needs more awareness – perhaps in rewriting, to make the language and the meaning more clear. But the fastforward and the movement in writing do seem more difficult. How to make it flow naturally, how to not close up too much on details? How to avoid wanting to tell everything as if in a Russian realist novel? Quoting Paul Auster: “If you try to put the entire world into every page, you turn out chaos. Art is about eliminating almost everything in order to focus on the thing that you need to talk about.”

    Anyways. Sorry to deviate. I love the personal tone you are giving to your entries, that adds a lot of flavour and is what I am enjoying on your posts. Personally, I think it would be really interesting to get some insight about you on your nanny work.

    Will keep on reading! Hugs!

  10. Thanks Charlotte! I love your comment, will certainly look into Butler’s idea on this topic, sounds fascinating! And thanks for taking the time to give us such a great overview on it. About the insights I’ve gotten from working with kids, don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll come up sooner or later. Kids are a huge source of inspirations for me, they remind you about what really matters and teach you to look at the world with new eyes again, they show you how ordinary things are really extraordinary if you really look at them not pass them. I look forward to seeing your comments on future posts, I can tell you’ll enrich the blog and us with them!

  11. Hi Abril! I, too, enjoyed your first post.

    My two cents: I think inspiration happens when we put our ego aside and listen to our true inner self as well as allow the external world to exert a force on us. By ego I mean our rational mind, our common sense, the hearth constraining the creative fires of our libido. I like Eckhardt Tolle’s ideas regarding this, he defines the ego as the voice inside your head, and counsels separating your true self from your ego by realizing “there is the voice inside my head, and here *I* am listening to it.” Tolle writes that setting aside your ego allows you to experience true peace and joy, and I think it is at these moments that we silence our fears, and rationalizations, and the rest of our defense mechanisms and let our creative energy bubble to the surface. Voila, inspiration.

    Tolle points out that we have all had intense moments of stillness, where something so beautiful, so wondrous, quiets our ego and we experience a moment of great peace and joy, right up until our mind starts thinking about it, comparing it, intellectualuzing it, and that peace is lost. A trip to the Grand Canyon might be a good example of this; that breathlessness upon gazing a mile into the Earth, which eventually fades as your mind elbows it’s way back into the conversation. Has anyone else experienced inspiration while trying to fall asleep, when your ego is already half out, only to wake the next morning and dismiss your ideas as dumb, impossible wastes of time? I’m trying to be aware of my mind, and keep it silent when I’m in the middle of a great idea, or experiencing a small joy. Or writing a rambling blog comment;) Short term goal: let my creative juices run wild this week, without the censure of my internal Editor. Thanks for the inspiration, friend!

  12. Hi Andrea!!

    Funny that you mentioned Eckhart Tolle! I looooveeed A New Earth, I read it 4 years ago and that book is still changing my life every day. So you’ll see him mentioned here in future posts I’m sure, as his influence touches everything I do. Thanks for taking the time to “ramble” hehe 😉

  13. I don’t think inspiration comes only from “tormented souls”, although it is a nice way to divert yourself from whatever torments you…
    I think that my best moments of inspiration, come from happiness :)

    So, my humble opinion is, be happy and inspiration (the good one) will come!

    Very beautifully written my friend, keep up the good work 😉

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