Inspiration is Overrated

2 May

I’m tempted to preface this quote by Chuck Close with my own thoughts, but I’ll just ruin it…

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

-Chuck Close

Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait, 1968

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6 Responses to “Inspiration is Overrated”

  1. John May 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    So, so true Christopher. It’s all about the work. I love this quote from the Paris Interviews, where Faulkner is asked about ‘inspiration’.

    INTERVIEWER
    You mentioned experience, observation, and imagination as
    being important for the writer. Would you include inspiration?

    FAULKNER
    I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is — I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.

  2. Sajib May 3, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    That is some good advice. :)

  3. Mark Turner May 2, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    I appreciate the encouragement to work the process and agree that the process when seen through to the fullest yields the richest art. But, I still know that inspiration is a real factor and that you can work the process all the way and come up with a flat, passionless piece. Inspiration is more than just getting excited about an idea. It is a conviction in the soul that this is your mission, your purpose. That kind of inspiration is essential to sustain one through the times when it is just hard work without the excitement. Without it, the reasons for going through the horrors of creating a major work like a film are very few indeed. You have to have a strong “why” to make it all worth going through. Perhaps Chuck was referring to something other than this kind of inspiration.

    • Christopher May 3, 2011 at 6:37 am #

      Good points, Mark. I suspect Close is referring to the romanticized version of inspiration; the one that often pops up in movies and myth. The one that many hope will spare them from long hours of work. Personally, I was caught in the inspiration trap for years and nothing really started happening for me until I forced myself to write, even when totally uninspired.

      • Mark Turner May 3, 2011 at 11:22 am #

        Yes, Christopher — I agree that we must practice our arts as a way of life. This will often, maybe most of the time, be mundane, just putting one stroke after the other. It’s a walk of faith that the inspiration is still there whether we feel it or not. This makes me think that we should consciously integrate times of renewal into our routines, times to re-connect with the inspiration. Ways I am finding helpful for this are morning devotional time to feed my spirit and remind me of my purpose; affirmations (distilled statements of vision/mission) which my wife and I speak to one another almost every day; weekly sabbath; periodic retreats and sabbaticals.

  4. Rae May 2, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    amazing observation.

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