Lately I have been thinking about how to nurture and energize artistic inspiration. I believe inspiration is a very personal thing, so I don’t have an all encompassing one size fits all formula. I have found it to be a lifelong process of evolution, discovering and finding ways to express through art the things I value, while developing my skills as a painter, and building on my work of the past to create my personal style. All of that is pretty labourious, but it is important for someone who is really focused on their art form.
Yet I have found there is another aspect of inspiration that does not necessarily need to be labourious and does not even require much talent or skill- in fact it seems to be most energizing when practiced in ways outside of painting in which I have little talent or skill, and therefore can’t take myself too seriously. It creates a habit that can then be applied to the process of creating a painting. It may be something that can benefit all kinds of people, not just artists. It’s what I call practicing the creative reflex.
Not every task in life can be done creatively, because it would become really inefficient. Instead of putting my boots on my feet to go outside, I would be trying to put them on backwards, or on my head, and never get anywhere. Yet there are many small ways, every day, in which creative ideas can be tried out, and even if they seem to flop, the process often leads to new, better ideas- which is exactly what painting is like, except that a painting can take hours or weeks to complete. The creative reflex can be practiced in small ways that do not need to take up a lot of time, or involve too many cultural or emotional hang ups that often come up with “serious art”.
Children do these kind of things naturally. For example, putting cranberries and chocolate together just to see how it turns out, making a pencil holder out of popsicle sticks, or sewing two buttons on my toque, not for any logical reason, but just to see how it would look. This isn’t goal oriented behaviour and won’t advance my career in any obvious way. Yet it creates a habit that is energizing and spills over into productivity in painting.
If you contrast this kind of simple, childlike approach to the concept of artist as creative genius, perhaps you can understand the real value of it. I definitely do not wake up in the morning feeling like a creative genius, or even thinking “wow, I’m such an important artist, I can’t wait to get to work!!” People say if an artist isn’t considered a genius, they will probably have to survive by eating dirt and gravel, but maybe they will be really famous when they’re dead. How can anyone possibly know that, and does it really matter? Is this even remotely inspiring, or just a big, confusing head trip? Do people say to a welder or a plumber “gee you don’t get paid much for practicing your calling, but someone might make a lot of money off you when you’re dead, so cheer up!” No.
A couple of days ago in the morning I was listening to music and the bubbling of the coffee pot while sewing two buttons on my toque- a purple one and a small wooden one- and later I was able to finish the painting, above, that I had not been sure before how to improve- “the Daemon Dragonfly” to which I added new elements using experimental techniques to make it a more interesting painting.
The Daemon is an Ancient Greek Spirit of creativity, which I first heard of in a very inspiring talk on TED by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s the idea that everyone has a spirit of creative genius, kind of like a guardian angel that is external to the self.
In other words, as I see it, everyone can be creative, even in small ways- and in fact this had been an expression of our common humanity throughout history and all parts of the world. Otherwise, we would just be surviving, eating raw meat and banging rocks together in caves. No wait, we wouldn’t even be banging rocks. Someone had to do that for the first time.