What Inspires You
We just finished up a big round of snow here in the Northeast. Great buckets of it swirling like a mad dance – not a soft, dreamy snowfall, but an angry, wicked one – piling up a few feet of fluffy white by the end. Today saw lots of digging out and some requisite complaining. But I have to say, I love a good storm. Always have. As long as one is safe and cozy. I find them marvelously inspiring.
Which got me thinking about inspiration in general, and being interviewed a few months back by a delightful young woman for her college art & design thesis. I almost always enjoy an interview, and this was no different. There were, naturally, the expected questions: what you look for when hiring, how you got started, etc. But my favorite question by far was, “What inspires you?” Because what doesn’t? Really, I told her, just about everything. But what exactly?
It’s true I’ve traveled a great deal – I lived in Germany as a child, I’ve leaned on the Great Pyramids and dined atop the Eiffel Tower, slept in hammocks in the Yucatán and picnicked on a sprawling red tablecloth laid out on Kenya’s Maasai Mara. New York City has been a stone’s throw away most of my life, as has the sea, mountains and farms – so, no doubt all of these experiences have piled up an almost gluttonous visual feast in my memory banks – but the other truth is that I can find just as much inspiration stepping out my door onto a freshly shoveled step, or a cracked walkway shaded by an overabundant smoke bush, or a beautifully designed book cover, a great photo, a well-crafted film, a thunderstorm, a child’s drawing, an old barn, the spokes of a bicycle wheel, the human face, gorgeous architecture, great athleticism, excellence in anything, shadows on snow. I can be inspired by a random slant of light, pages of striking prose or what comes in dreams. It can be a conversation, or something overheard on the train, a character in a story, or a character in real life. It can come “out of the blue”. It can be the act of simply looking up at the universe and falling into its wonder. It comes from the sky. The wind. The earth. Fire. Stones. Flowers. Rivers. Mountaintops. Birds. Dragons. All of it. All of life’s endless bigness, beauty and mystery, where there are more textures, tones, colors, moods and designs than one could begin to imagine. It’s a vivid palette from an endless well.
Now, I know some may say this artist or that artist inspires them, or this style or that style, or maybe that they’re driven by social causes or a desire to make particular statements. But really, whatever moves you inspires you. And being moved doesn’t always involve epiphany or deep emotion – sometimes, yes – but it’s fundamentally about what makes your mind light up and your heart quicken just a bit, taking you out of the mundane into enthusiasm and possibility. Sometimes, you can’t actually put a name to it.
So, if you keep your ears, eyes and heart open, feeling inspired isn’t that tough. Maybe it’s about what you do with it. Whether you let the flame flicker out or you jot it down, draw a line, pick up a brush, play a note, make a plan. Because inspiration is kind of a two-pronged arrangement – it loves to seed, and it loves to be watered with action. When you can hold onto the inspiration once the work of it begins, there lies some real power.