Where do you find inspiration? (part 1)
June 21, 2007
Annie Copeland said in her comment:
“I think this is something that we as fiberartists need to remember. We can go outside ourselves to find our creation, and there is nothing really wrong with that, but also, sometimes we push ourselves when the answers are right in our own backyards. I have read comments by some art quilters who believe that things such as landscapes, beautiful flowers, birds, etc. are passe’ and lack inspiration, but I disagree. I think if we look back in art history, some of the greatest paintings of all times have been of everyday subjects.”
In principle I agree with you on that. But the situtation today is a bit different. People are flooded with these kinds of images, on objects, posters, advertising. So even breathtakingly wonderful images, very sophistically executed, lack the momentum of surprise and often originality. Today there is no limit of distribution – possibilities the artists of the past centuries did not have, so what they did was in fact new and original, even the derivatives of the masters.
To really succeed as an artist with a mature personality (not necessarily financially) you need to be original, you need subjects which are new and unspoiled, not touched by thousands of others – you have to be unique. Of course I know quite well that this in fact is not entirely possible – somewhere on this world “your” subject has been covered before, “your” style has been used in one way or another and “your” colour composition is repeated. But if you choose a subject which is unusual in its entirety, or a completely uncommon view of something familiar – let’s say a tiny fraction of the whole – the probability finding a similar image would be low.
I often refrain from using a certain subject when I realize it has been used too often. Doing a research on the internet really helps. This is something I learned in the past years. But sometimes you are simply that much fascinated by a subject, by its natural beauty, forms and colours that you just cannot do anything but picking it up and trying your own version on it as it happened with images of hundreds of cave paintings I saw. I was so intrigued by their elegance and simple graciousness that I wanted to slip back into their time and try my own hand on it.
Later I was unpleasantly surprised – I did not have the faintest idea how many people had had the same idea.
I thought it was an intriguing and original idea to pick up the appearance of those wonderful, modern looking and elegant drawings, paintings and engravings of the past, to use their symbols in a new look and content and on a completely different medium such as silk. I would not have if I had known before that these motifs have been used quite often before. Someone mentioned even to me that these were covered on coffee mugs – aaaargh. That was really an unpleasant surprise! On the other hand – the paintings I had finished were mine, my own original work.
Annie said further:
“Now in some cases they (subjects) might seem exotic to us because we don’t live in areas where you see those things. For example, it would be ludicrous for someone living in the middle of the Arizona desert to think they would see a tall sailing ship, or the green trees of the Amazon forest. Some people could pull off that sort of painting or other art work when they don’t live in those areas where those things occur, but often to me, those paintings and other art works look forced and they seem to lack something of the spontaneity that comes from living in close contact with a thing. The reason, I think, is that a person painting out of context can only paint that which everyone sees – the big picture. But all the little details that a great artist can focus in on are lost to someone without the context, unless they happen to find a picture of the thing, and even then, there seems to be something missing much of the time.”
I agree and disagree. I don’t think that you need to have seen an object or landscape in flesh before you can paint it, be it exotic or not. With all the access to detailed information, documentation, photos, slideshows you have today you probably know a subject or object better than having seen it in flesh before. Of course you definitely miss a certain atmosphere – that’s why people still pay a lot for visiting concerts and sportive events instead of sitting in front of the tv and buying cd’s but you won’t gain a deep knowledge without doing research also.
But a painting or any other visual art work does not only live from the subject, it also lives from composition, form, colour, texture, even size. You won’t have a recognizable subject in abstract art – won’t you?
The artist adds her/his imagination, images which might not be realistic at all (surrealists) and completely different from the original theme. This is the artistic licence. So if I decide to paint sailboats, although I am living in Arizona, who would tell me not to do so because I don’t have the licence to do so? My sailboats may be the metaphor for something else, something that escapes the superficial view. I agree with you that often subjects in an uncommon environment do lack sincerity and look somewhat copied and dead. But that applies to many works.
I rather often paint subjects I might not have seen in the flesh or only once in a while without living to it next door. I also live in an area which really does not motivate to painting – at least not subjects I am interested in currently. Very often I paint from images which appear in my head, because I have seen a film, a documentation, the slideshow from someone else’s holiday and of dreams. I paint themes where I would like to be or go back to. Most of the time these images appear only in a flash of a second and I have to note it down before I forget it.
More often I see an image which leads to a completely different idea that has nothing to do with the original. Sometimes I am looking at a plant and the pattern of the leaves gives me the inspiration for something totally different.
About 30 years ago I painted something I had seen in dreams. At that time I read a novel about the conquest of Mexico, “The White Gods” by Eduard Stucken. I was fascinated by the history of the Aztecs and their kings. I had no idea how much of the historic novel was real and what was fiction. I did not even care but I dreamt about it and saw Montezuma’s city Tenochtitlan in my dream. This is the painting:
Today I know that the historical city really looked like that – located in the middle of a huge lake.
I have never been to Mexico yet or any of the other countries of middle or south America. But I feel a deep affinity to these countries with their rich history and culture. Does this exclude me from having the “licence” to paint motifs from these countries? I don’t think so. I think the knowledge about a subject, its history and environment, its interconnection with society and people “legitimates” you working on it as an artist. This is probably the “big picture” you were talking about, that you need to be able to refer to.