What is inspiration?

Summer Idyll, Cold River, detail
Summer Idyll, Cold River, detail


 The river receives us.

holds us, slippery smooth,

swallows our bodies

to slake its thirst.

We laugh, dive,

rise to sun-specked surface,

rise into reflected trees,

cloud-streaked sky,

become one

with the wetness,

timeless flow of summer,

living river spirit.

Ginger Lang Vela



Ginger wrote this lovely poem while waiting for my painting Cold River to arrive at her home. She was inspired by the image to write Communion. This touched me deeply and brought forth these thoughts on inspiration:

From the Oxford Dictionary,  Middle English enspire, from Old French inspirer, from Latin inspirare ‘breathe or blow into’ from in- ‘into’ + spirare ‘breathe’. The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone’

To impart a truth or idea to someone, isn’t that the definition of art? Or at least the intent? In that sense it isn’t only artists that are inspired to create but a person is inspired by partaking of the art. It is like a chain of inspiration.

A Friend asked me recently how the spirit (or god or the divine, use whatever name suits you) fits into my art? I approach painting from a spiritual viewpoint and consider my art to be a personal seeking for truth. From this perspective I find that words can get in the way so first let me define some terms.

  • An icon is a representation of the truth or spirit that is close enough or transparent enough so that the viewer can perceive the divine.
  • Seeking truth is what I call the search for the iconic in the subject, thus a representation of truth that is so transparent that the viewer can see the spirit through the work.

I believe that spirit underlies all in the natural world and that by listening closely to that still, small, voice of the spirit within (a Quaker concept) I can distill from the subject the iconic in some degree. So for me, creating is close to worship. I find that my mind is in the same state of receptivity to inspiration.

Looking at or hearing or reading an inspiring work of art puts me in touch with the truth or spirit. That sense of rightness or wholeness or holy-ness that ironically, considering the origins of the word, make it hard for me to breathe when I am in its presence.

And so the breath of inspiration is passed from the spirit, to me, to Ginger, to you. What will you do with it? How will it move you?