Inspiration — what do I do with this?
I just finished looking at a book my parents received for christmas. Ansel Adams in the national parks. To look a print of Ansel Adams for me is both inspiring and humbling. It makes me want to head out in to the field spending weeks waiting for the perfect light, and it also makes me want to head to the digital dark room to perfect my technique aiming for wall sized tack sharp prints. It makes me not want to spend time marketing my prints, or working on logistics or ads. Partly because I’m always looking for an excuse to put those aside, but also because I feel like I have such big strides to take, so much to be learned, not because I need to be at Adams’ level, but because those strides are there to be taken (tho my photographic stride is much shorter than Adams and I may never reach “the end”).
What use can such amazing inspiration be for us? Whether it be an amazing house to an architect, or a picasso to a painter, I imagine it is difficult for artists to wrestle with their relationship with such stunning works of art. For me, Adams’ work is so high on a pedestal, so Helen of Troy unapproachable, that my usual envy for a gorgeous image is nowhere to be found. Dewitt Jones and Lynette Sheppard, husband and wife artists, have been heard to say “I hate you” so lovingly when seeing an image the other has created. I have definitely been heard to appropriate their phrase with a twist “I hate you in the best possible way” (said with a grin of course). I think there is something inherent in many artists to want to create something incredulous, and when we see others’ images it reminds us of how far we are from that inner goal. Of course we are always enchanted with the new, and our work has been seen by us many many hours before it sees the light of day so we are biased in our perception of others work.
Leaving the unassailable greats, I ask myself again, how can I relate to great images that I see? That image on the web that makes you say ooooh and turn green with envy. Envy of wanting it on my wall. The desire to possess, even though my walls are getting full. This desire to possess is even difficult with my passion for architecture. Seeing a beatiful is much more attainable than the $10 million pavilion style ocenfront house featured in a magazine I saw recently. That desire to posess, is the subject of many cautionary tales, consuming some men (often in the apprecation of beauty in the female form). It’s also partly jealousy of the creation. I wish I had created that image, its beauty a reflection of the talents I desire to have. Artists often measure themselves as people by their works, so we are jealous of the piece of the people represented by the image rather than just being envious of the image itself.
Can I get beyond Envy and Jealousy to Inspiration? Yes we can.
Inspiration, that energy rising from the chest, smells like caffeine, and excitement. But sometimes instead of inspiration, comes a nagging doubting gollum saying “You’ll never get there, why even try” and accusing inspiration of being appropriation of ideas. But that too must be tamed as after all Adams was inspired by Steiglitz and Strand.
Maybe I can work this out further in my head by breaking it down on the page more. Let’s split inspiration in to two parts. General, and specific. “Wow that’s amazing work, I’m inspired to hone my craft so I can make such inspiring works” -> General. “I really want to work on my rich blacks and whites and sharpness a la Ansel Adams, perhaps I’ll get a beefier tripod and use HDR for B&W” -> specific. To me general inspiration goes to and is needed for energy. That get up and go. the off the couch activation energy defeating momentum. Specific inspiration is useful for knowledge to seek, and guides you in the path to go once you are up off that couch. Though often by being inspired to tackle difficult things I find myself careening back to the couch -> negative general inspiration. “Oh God, what am I doing? I’m worthless at art. etc etc etc” I often get this when trolling flickr. So many amazing images out there it’s easy for me to get filled with a sincere lack of relevance to society given how many great images are already out there.
Ok, so we don’t want to get negatively inspired, we do want to get generally and specifically inspired, and we need to find some way to capture that inspiration. Sometimes we can’t strike while the inspiration is hot. We need to save it in a leather pouch like the pioneers did with embers, so that we can when the time is right we can light our own fire. For example, I’m thinking 1107pm with shoes off and feet up is not the right time to tackle my Ansel Adams quest. So the next trick will be remembering to go back to that ember when I’m feeling blah, and unmotivated.
So remember, when that blah feeling hits, there was something you were supposed to remember. What was it…hmm can’t remember, maybe I’ll just go look in the fridge. oh right, inspiration leftovers!