Defined as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something,” inspiration has a terrible habit of evading us when we need it most. Writer’s block, photographer’s rut, painter’s standstill, call it what you will, there is no mistaking its unwelcome presence when it halts an artist’s rhythm, lingering like a fog that refuses to be evaporated by the winter sun.
During a time where creativity is both respected and encouraged as a real career pursuit, I often find it difficult to continually remain at my most productive self and to banish the despondent thoughts that creep into one's daily life as a result of being uninspired.
There are days filled with excitable enthusiasm as I begin to pursue an idea that entered my crowded mind just minutes before turning out the light the evening prior. Equally, however, there are moments of self doubt and times filled with despair as my creative ability wanes in favor of a more fatalistic perspective. It's honestly a constant struggle.
One of the biggest conflicts I contend with when I’m feeling uninspired is the simple idea of being novel. Despite a touch of pessimism when inspiration eludes me, I sincerely believe it is one of life's greatest accomplishments to possess originality in its purest form. It is unarguably a trait we would all like to be blessed with from time to time. With that being said, however, I can't help but question what it means to truly be original.
My battle with the idea of originality began when I joined the sector of people we refer to as creatives; a thriving industry segment defined as those with the ability to create for a living. Used forcibly in an attempt to emphasize the message that his or her creation was the first of its kind, "original" became a common adjective used repeatedly in every day dialogue and I soon began to associate it with its lesser desired opposite, unbeknownst to the excitable claimant. And while I realize my words may seem a little cruel, I beg you to look beyond my cynical facade and delve deeper into the very idea of originality for yourself.
Take the great Monet for example. Undeniably one of the most renowned painters of the 19th century impressionism movement, it was the ethereal beauty of the French landscape and the way in which the light fell on his many subjects that inspired Claude Oscar Monet during his stride. Today we stand in awe before his famed Water Lily series, perfectly embodying the movement’s dreamy aesthetic. Yet prior to the breathtaking depictions of his gardens in Giverny, it was fellow artist and friend, Eugene Boudin, who admittedly inspired Monet to begin exploring landscapes. With this in mind, one could argue that even the most famed original works of art were born out of influence.
Beyond the obvious visual craftsmanship of painting, influence and inspiration is perhaps most notably evident and celebrated without question in the art of cuisine. The sequential history of cooking unquestionably paved the way for many of today’s highly acclaimed chefs, most of whom are proud to pay homage to the famed culinary professionals who inspired them. Thomas Keller for example, often referred to as America’s greatest chef, makes no secret of the people and places that have influenced his food. Furthermore, he speaks openly about channeling his envy of others in the industry and how he uses it to establish personal goals.
In short, inspiration lies everywhere. In its most obvious form today, it is an image shared via social media. Subconsciously, it is a familiar smell that conjures up memories of a time or a place gone by or simply pausing to appreciate one's surroundings. For Monet it was the heart-stirring French scenery combined with the appreciation of another’s work that led to the creation of his most beloved, iconic landscapes. For Thomas Keller and his treasured Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry, it was the illustrious chefs from the gastronomic capital of the world united with Keller’s own culinary experiences as he traveled through the French countryside that influenced such monumental success.
When I'm feeling overly ponderous, I intentionally turn to some of my favorite artists in search of an awakening, seeking inspiration by choosing to flick through a cherished magazine or read the latest on an influential blog. For the most part, I am able to uncover the incentive I need to continue my creativity and while the end result may not be immediately apparent, I know that the words and images I happened upon during my quest are stored subconsciously in my memory for a future spell of stalemate brainstorming.
At the very core of my opinion is the simple notion and understanding that every idea, every thought, every inventive conception is inspired by someone or something. The theory of originality has admittedly become much harder for me to accept in a world filled with creatives, in its place, however, is the ability to recognize who and what motivates my own artistry and to be honest in both accepting and acknowledging it, just like Monet or Keller.
And so the next time I’m feeling unimaginative, I will pause to recall that there is zero shame in turning to your comrades to reignite that spark. Rather than dwell in our own uninspired self pity or worse still, frown upon those who appear to have drawn inspiration from someone else’s brilliance, we ought to put more energy into acknowledging and celebrating where one’s revelation might have come from. Credible creations are and will continue to be formed by seeking the inspiration that is indeed all around us, and whether they are truly authentic or not is quite irrelevant, after all; perhaps even Monet and Keller were not wholeheartedly original in their excellence.