Sunday, August 1, 2010

This is the August of Inspiration

Yes, August is the Month of Inspiration here at Unruly Beast! The whole month will be devoted to poking around at this mysterious subject.

Inspiration is a critical part of life for many creative artists, but it's not an easy subject to talk about. We can catalog all the chords you'll ever use in rocks songs, and define the chords' functions and relationships — but when it comes to inspiration, there are no diagrams, no tables, no clear-cut answers. Inspiration is one of those big, fuzzy subjects, like God and Love and the Meaning of Life.

What is inspiration, exactly? It's not even easy to define. Sometimes inspiration takes the form of an idea. It pops into your head, it leaps off the paper while you're writing, or it jumps up and down in front of your face as a sudden answer to a question that you might or might not have been asking.

In whatever way it makes its appearance, inspiration is more than just an idea. It's possible to fill pages with new ideas and not come across any inspiration. If inspiration is an idea, it's an idea that comes attached to a payload. This is an idea that enters with force and momentum and certainty. It imposes itself and demands to be expressed.

Inspiration sometimes appears as a vision. You suddenly see a complete and detailed mental picture of something. It's something that doesn't yet exist, but the vision somehow compels you to bring it into existence.

Following through on an inspiration can be exhilarating. Artists often describe these moments as the most profound and meaningful experiences in their lives. But inspiration can just as easily lead to frustration, heartbreak, and despair. If you catch a vision of a great possibility, but don't have the right skills and techniques to bring it to reality, the failure hurts. Failed artists are suicide risks in just the same way as scorned lovers. This is powerful stuff. If it were a product, the FDA would have to consider pulling it off the market.

Love makes fools of us all, it is said. Falling in love is almost a universal experience, and its foolish results decorate our literature, movies, and newspapers. Inspiration makes fools of just some of us, while most others seem to be immune to its particular indignity. Because it's a less-common experience, an artist grappling with inspiration's irrational nature can sometimes feel very alone. This is why it's good for artist to be in touch with other artists, to have a support network of others who understand the emotions and challenges that come with creative work.

Of course, inspiration comes in many sizes, shapes, and flavors, and it's not always an epic life-shaking experience. You can learn to cultivate inspiration, to make it a bigger presence in your life and your work, and to handle it successfully without getting burned. That's the subject of August of Inspiration here at Unruly Beast.

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