Chambers Dictionary defines inspiration thus: "the act of inspiring or breathing in: a breath: instruction, dictation,or stimulation by a divinity, a genius, an idea or passion: unacknowledged prompting by authorities: an inspired condition: an object or person that inspires: an inspired thought or idea..." further_-... "inspired" is defined as.."actuated or directed by divine influence."
How do we know that what we are producing is "inspired?" The answer is of course, we don't. And we probably never will. The air that I breathe in is different from what my son in the same room is breathing in. I may be close to the window, he may be close to the dog. We are in the same room, yet we experience a completely different set of air molecules and we are processing it through a different olfactory system. We act, or react in different ways. Jim smiles in a sort of fascinated admiration that a creature so small can produce a stench so powerful. I rush for the can of air freshener .
Is it the way we process this air that prompts the action. How can we be sure of the source of the emission? in this case it is Rover. However, the two people in Rover's presence who are breathing in his emission's may be inspired to act differently.
Jim feels a bit sick, but may be so full of admiration that he is inspired to make a stink bomb. I, on the other hand may be inspired to make a pot pourree to counter the evil stench.
This is not to say that George is incapable of producing a pot pourree or Sue incapable of producing a stink bomb. That is indeed an argument for another day, but the point is that inspiration is subjective. The common denominator, though is that it is powerful - too powerful to resist sometimes. No matter how much we try to rid ourselves of that image, smell, taste, sound, touch.... we simply cannot. No matter how hard we try not to breathe in sometimes, we have to or we die. Simple. To be inspired then is to breathe, to be alive. Air is freely accessible to all. So is inspiration.
I am making an argument then, that "inspiration" is something that is entirely unconscious and sensational. By which I mean, "of the senses"i.e. something physiological. One is "inspired" by a beautiful sunset, or the sound of a trumpet, or the smell of a baby's hair, the touch of a lover, the flavour of peaches. I have left out an important factor, emotion. Is a "feeling" an inspiration? By the above definition it certainly is. That feeling of awe, or wonder, perhaps when one hears a powerful organ symphony for the first time, or the profound sadness and despair when one loses a loved one or a precious relationship.
You reach rock-bottom and are about to stick your head in the oven. Suddenly a thought hits you - you go to the computer screen and there is a message from someone you haven't seen for years, or you turn your head and through your tears you glimpse a beautiful rose growing outside your window. You are suddenly, inexplicably aware of the beauty of life- so much so that you pull yourself back from the abyss and are once more inspired to live more fully in the moment. Or whatever.
Why does it seem then, that some people seem more "inspired" than others - do they breathe in more, breathe out less? Do they possess a better "filtering" system - they may take in impure, toxic air just like everyone else and yet are not as badly affected and they manage somehow to transform it into something sweet and beautiful instead.
Why am I inspired by simple things - my dog's soft underbelly, my son's laugh, the smell of baking bread. Look around, open your eyes, live in the moment, watch the light on the leaves.
I had a great teacher once whose words stuck in my head "Paint what you see, not what you know (thanks Alex!) that was great advice.
After that lesson I did what I thought was a great drawing. Believe me I never think my stuff is great, but this drawing was pretty awesome. Even my mother thought so. I caught her looking at it once - she didn't know I was watching her, but I could see the admiration on her face. She has always been my best critic, or worst perhaps, but the look on her face said it all. The subject of course had a lot to do with it. It was the face of an old fisherman - not anyone I knew, just a picture I had found in an old National Geographic.
Something about that old man's face appealed to me - the lines, the expression in the eyes, just something spoke so loudly to me. I had been searching for a subject the whole lesson. Everyone around me was getting on with their drawing. I was the last one to start. I was starting to panic. I only had about half an hour left to produce a drawing. I could feel the beads of stress starting to collect at my hairline. I wanted to rush out of the room. I turned the page and there he was. The old man, looking at me with all the wisdom in the world. I felt a great surge of relief and just started wildly plotting the picture as my teacher had shown me, drawing an oval shape, dividing the face in half, putting the mouth halfway between the middle of the oval and the bottom.
Just 5 minutes into the drafting I thought,'NO, this is wrong, I can't do this.
So I just began drawing freely, with lots of line, lots of graphite, almost wildly. By the end of the session, I was not nearly finished but I felt good. I could feel that it was going to be alright. I took the half-finished drawing home with me and worked on it another hour at home. I was not aware of time passing. I did not feel the usual backache from sitting too long. It was the fastest, longest hour, yet when I looked up, the old man's face was staring back at me, complete, the expression kind, knowing, a little sad, very travelled. I loved it. I don't often love my work. That was inspiration.
So, where are we then. What is this "inspiration"? Who cares? We can inspire and inspire all day long and no good can come of it, right? Good grief, all that breathing in could make us lightheaded. Yes, well, I suppose that is true. We have got to breathe out sometime. What of our exhalations though - our "creations"- our acts? What if our morning breath smells so bad that it makes our 3-year old recoil in horror. Powerful weapon, that early morning breath! It is the knowledge of that power that drives us, I think.
The knowledge that our halitosis can cause another human being to turn from us that makes a sensitive person think twice about breathing out in the offended one's presence. We turn our heads apologetically and breathe discreetly and with embarrassment. Our drawings stay locked in the cupboard, our music remains unplayed for fear of causing our families to cover their ears in disgust. Or, being the perverse creatures we are, we revel in the bad reactions we inspire and we put a pile of bricks in the Tate modern and laugh delightedly at the fools who call our crap "post modern, or "conceptual."
It can turn some to evil, some to good. It seems there are no half-measures with inspiration. When the world sits up and takes notice you know that what you are producing, what you are indeed 'breathing out' , is powerful. If, on the other hand, your farts are so quiet and inoffensive that no-one notices or no-one comments on your sweet breath then do as I do- breathe in. Breathe in longer, breathe in harder, breethe in deeper. You are now inspired! Act on it. Your expirations will be stronger, sweeter, more powerful. They have to be. It is only natural. The more you take in, the more you give out. Stay focused. With the good deep breath will come the good deep ideas. The act on them. Let them take form. Stay in the present moment. How your emissions" are perceived is none of your business. That is the critic's job.