What is Inspiration and Where Does It Come From?

I’ve been thinking about inspiration and where it comes from. And why we can’t make it do our bidding. In fact, it seems to have a mind [or spirit] all its own. But, of course, I’m not the first one to notice that!

Countless writers and artists, scientists—every human being has at one time or another wished that the next great thought or idea would come. It’s ironic how many words have been written on the topic of writer’s block!

Then I thought it would be fun to write a number of posts to explore the whole topic—especially what inspires you. I know pretty well the kinds of things which inspire me, but how about you?

Here’s my preliminary list which undoubtedly will be expanded as I go.

  • People…
  • Places, travel, experiencing something new and different.
  • Books both fiction and non-fiction
  • Art of all kinds, whether painting, sculpture, constructions,
  • Theatre and film/sometimes TV, but not enough.
  • Music
  • Clients from my law practice [a few have become the basis for a character…more on that later].
  • Very occasionally friends and family, but I try not ever to write about them.
  • Astronomy/physics.
  • Philosophy—spiritual aspects of life—ideas of all kinds.

But before getting into details, let’s talk about just what inspiration is.  For me, inspiration is a breath of an idea or feeling—an emotion which sets the mind and spirit going to who knows where. It’s that moment when all sorts of apparently unrelated ‘bits and pieces’ all come together to form a “whole”.

In The Drawing Lesson, Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape artist, fears he is losing his muse. This is a complete disaster for him, since his normally beautiful, harmonious muse is sending him ugly, misshapen trolls which suddenly appear in his serene landscape painting. Some force within him makes him paint these creatures. Alexander is the sort of artist who finds his inspiration in people—particularly beautiful [inspiring] women.

He’s met Daphne, a woman with her own problems, on the Orient Express to Venice. And he is inspired by not only her physical being, but also her spirit. In fact, she inspires him so much that one evening he draws ten sketches of her and presents them to her in her cabin. This is after they have really just met and so, she is a little taken aback by his intensity.

The artist leaned forward so that the lamplight fell full on his face. “My art comes from deep within. Some places are comfortable, familiar rooms, which I have often visited in dreams and reveries. Others are wonderfully fanciful and enchanting lands. Still others contain the terrifying stuff of nightmares. But all those places have their treasures and must be explored and intimately known if one is to create.” He touched her hand. “Some quality, an essence, within the muse is like a candle flickering in the dark, illuminating everything in those rooms. That light leads the poor artist through his own private heaven and hell ever onward to his creation.”

Now that is no ordinary pick-up line. He is so impassioned in his delivery that he frightens her a little bit, but he also greatly intrigues her. But, as you can see, Alexander regards his muse as his sympathetic guide to his interior self. And that’s a definition I like.

But why does an artist like Alexander Wainwright want to delve down into the interior self—the subconscious. To me, it makes sense. That is where all the ideas, thoughts, feelings etc., are hiding out. Just think of your dreams. All sorts of surprising things dwell in those recesses. As Alexander says—Still other [lands]contain the terrifying stuff of nightmares. And so, his muse must guide him. I like to read Jung on creativity. Both he and Freud tried to tackle it to come up with a definition or at least some understanding. Generally speaking, both were flummoxed!

But the question still remains. What inspires you? Do you try to court the muse? I’d love to hear from you.


About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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