Finding Creative Inspiration Part 3: The Work of Others

3 music is soul food

Last week I talked about random image and word stimulus as a way to get creatively inspired. This week we’re going to be looking at something a little less demanding – being inspired by the work of others.

When approaching the work of others as a source of inspiration we can end up treading a fine line between enthusiasm and rejection, getting really caught up in particular creatives, even to the extent of wanting to be them and emulating their work, or conversely being so convinced of our own works importance that we think we don’t need to see how anyone else approaches things. In the long run neither of these is a good strategy to stick to. If your work is just an attempt to be like someone else you will always be in someone else’s shadow, unable to stand out or feel fully creatively fulfilled, and if you never take inspiration from others in your field or outside it your work may lack any sense of context and risk being alienating or even impenetrable.

Most pop music can be accused of the former, and sure it makes money, but this week’s top hit will be worthless within months. We still listen to Beethoven. Some of my favourite philosophers can be accused of the latter, but anyone writing impenetrable inquiries into ethics, metaphysics or epistemology is unlikely to enjoy the success and renown Plato, Kant and Nietzsche still do. We need to find our own way.

It is also important to remember that an illustrator can be inspired by a musician, a painter by a poet, a singer by a dance and vice versa etc. I am often inspired by music but I don’t know anything about it other than what I like to hear. Take inspiration where you find it, and when it comes from the work of another creative it can show you a few particularly vital things:

Nothing is Original

I feel like everything is inspired by something else. There is no 100 percent original thought. – Ne-Yo

Art history is a history of innovation, not invention. So is the history of ideas. Every great idea, every invention, every painting, song or story, can be traced back to being somehow influenced by others, from being there to plant the seed, as Bertrand Russell did for Ludwig Wittgenstein, to taking a good idea of someone else’s and making it an amazing idea of yours, as the Write brother’s did with the idea of the aeroplane. The Write brother’s didn’t invent the idea of the aeroplane, but they were the first to make one that worked, and the idea of human flight had been with us since time immemorial. Hardly original, still world changing.

The same applies to the work of creatives. Much of the wonderful work of others that we admire is hardly original, that doesn’t detract anything from its greatness. It is good to remember this if you have any worries over your own originality. You don’t need to invent anything new, you need to be innovative with what you already have.

3 originality

Art Comes From Art

I look at a lot of artists. I’m inspired by – I suppose I shouldn’t say ‘inspired,’ but it’s not really influenced. I am inspired. Art comes from art. – Cy Twombly

All creatives will have had some moment in their lives when they experienced that thing that they wanted to do being done well by someone else for the first time. I remember vividly looking through a sketchbook my primary school teacher had brought to show the class and knowing as soon as I looked at her paintings of snakeskin and crane flies “I want to do that”. That want never left me. That want is present every time I see art I admire; it propels me forward and encourages me to hone my skills all the more. When I look at the work of others I enjoy it for its own sake, but I also learn anything I can from it and use it as a catalyst to inspire my own creativity, as many creatives do.

I’ve never met a writer that didn’t enjoy reading, or a painter that didn’t enjoy going to exhibitions, or a musician that didn’t enjoy gigs. If you want to do these things, learn to enjoy them. We can learn from each other and we can be inspired by each other, if we want to be.

Authenticity is Everything

The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. – Neil Gaiman

What makes a Picasso a Picasso? Or a Neil Gaiman story so recognisably Neil Gaiman-y? What makes Amanda Palmer’s music so… her? They are simply being themselves. The most important and inspiring thing that the work of any creative has to offer is their authenticity. Something of the creative themselves, their honed and refined perspective, will shine through at you and seduce you into another world, their world, or whatever world they want to show you.

This capacity for authentic self expression is the holy grail of creativity and witnessing it in action from a creative you admire can have a profound ability to inspire and unlock our own authenticity. It gives us courage to see another do something that requires such vulnerability – authenticity asks for radical honesty, with yourself, with the world, or both – rather than being safe and stifled behind other people’s expectations. Witnessing another person freely express their creativity in a way we connect to can be the most inspiring thing of all, as well as fulfilling in itself.

In summary

This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing. – Amanda Palmer

The work of other creatives can inspire us by demonstrating innovation, teaching us new things and catalysing our own process, and showing us the value of authenticity and human connection. I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Who inspires you? As always, I’m interested to hear from you – so let me know what you think in the comment’s box below.

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