About inspiration

What is an inspiration? The work „inspiration” itself seems to be the power word of sites like Pinterest or Etsy – even this blog promises to „inspire”. But many people misunderstand – and, therefore – misuse the word, to the point where it became nearly meaningless.

Wikipedia defines inspiration as an „unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or other artistic endeavor.”. This refers to the act of being inspired as something sudden and unconnected to outside factors, like BAM! I feel inspired, I need to create! And this is how artists and poets understood it – sitting under a tree and waiting for this divine bliss giving instant ideas to them. But my definion is that inspiration is taking. Taking from anything actually existing and putting that fragment into our own creation. That's why artists consume art.

A non-artist watches art (in any form, be it photography, poetry, performances, design etc.) to either understand it (the classical visual arts) or feel it (modern art and music). John Smith goes into a museum once a blue moon to watch pretty paintings of people living long time ago and that's fine – if he wants to, peace on him, most people don't even do that. But for artist, this feeling of awe of the creator's skill is just the first phase. Then, he tries to get inspired – seeks small details and deconstructs the work in order to fully understand how it works. Much like a watchmaker taking apart your Rolex to comprehend little machinery behind it, artists try to see why his colleague (or a competitor!) succeeded.

It might be the technique – how did someone obtain such smoothness of marble, a sculptor might wonder. Or colours, for a painter. A designer might wonder why this special chair is so comfortable, but all of them need to know their own craft. You won't get anything out of seeing „Gioconda” in a means of learning if you can't see the difference between oil and acrylic paint.

This is why there is a very thin and very vague line between inspiration and plain stealing. But there is a difference, and it matters! Let's take a look at two paintings of van Gogh and two other paintings which were his inspiration.

Paul Gauguin - Les Alyscamps (1888)
Vincent van Gogh - Les Alyscamps (1888)

„Les Alyscamps” is painted in style of Gauguin, with whom van Gogh lived for a short period. But the change of style is justifiable – it is his original composition, an artistic challenge and a tribute to his colleague. 

Vincent van Gogh - Pieta (after Delacroix) (1889)
Eugene Delacroix - Pieta (1850)

„Pieta (after Delacroix)” is another, yet different example. Here, van Gogh took the composition of a famous painting, but remade it in his own style. Very risky move, but he did point out the source of his inspiration.

I have chosen pretty borderline examples – a very famous artist who copied someone and added his own value to that. As I said before, it is quite difficult to distinguish between what is fair and what is not. One helpful tip – if the source of inspiration is a piece of art – you need to know whether the value lies in the technique or in the idea. Painting like Botticelli is all right – it requires a lot of skill. But painting like Pollock is not. I'm not saying he was not a great artist – he most certainly was. But the power of his art lied in his idea of art and aesthetics. You can't just use different colours to be another Pollock.
A final note. Inspiration isn't always (and shouldn't be) literal. You can reverse it, subverse it, lampshade it, do pretty much you want – because that's the point. It must make you think, make you look for a new ways to express yourself. If you do not put your own thoughts in the process of making, you're merely a crafter, not an artist.

Picasso said that good artists create but great artists steal. (Later the quote was stolen by Banksy). And that's true. Steal. But don't do it blatantly.

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