A lesson in inspiration

I had bought a magazine on photography, as I was quite keen on photography and like to make pictures myself. I had bought a camera, second hand, a few months ago and was getting the hang of the new mechanics. I did have a camera before, but not one of this quality.

I had bought the magazine to see what other photographers were doing, and what things to look at when taking photos. It was a magazine filled with works of critical acclaim made by highly awarded photographers. I had found a certain photographer whose style inspired me thoroughly in one of the ‘trending photographers’ sections. He used objects that don’t belong in a certain scene; like a soda can hanging from a tree or in a small old town in an old clothes store a bunch of new clothes.

I had gotten so inspired by his work that I went out to (almost) recreate his work. I made some pictures in an untouched part of the woods where I’d put some out of place objects. I made the photos, processed them and printed a few of them. I got so happy with my work that I put a lot of effort in publishing them, and the thing I could barely dream of happened: A popular photography website found my photo and posted it on their front page. For the publications I wrote a small piece about what made me take the picture and mentioned the artist who inspired me at the first place.

It got seen by many people.

One day, ecstatic from the popularity of my picture, I received a message from the photographer who inspired me at first and got very excited when I saw his name. Yet the message was very apt to cool my happiness and made me look at inspiration in a very different way.

Hello,

I saw your pictures online, and couldn’t help but see the similarities with my work. After reading one of the texts you wrote besides one of the publishings about how I inspired you I got somewhat angry, and here’s why:

Inspiration is, to me, a way of stealing my work. I worked hard on creating that idea, those misplaced items. I wanted to make a classical, somewhat boring scene interesting and I did this by the method you found in my work. I worked hard on this, setting a challenge for myself, thinking of the solution and I created this idea. And you stole it. You found the composition interesting (which is what I wanted to achieve) but you recreated it blindly, not thinking of any of the reasons behind the concept.

Next time, when you feel this ‘inspiration’: contact the artist, ask why he did a thing and from THAT answer, namely in this case to make a boring scene interesting, create your own solution to that problem. It makes your artistic mind more creative and keeps this concept I made connected with my name. This feels like artistic theft. If you would’ve asked me how or why I did what I did with my photos I would not have been as angry as I am now.

Get inspired, but don’t make inspiration your drive. Be inquisitive.

This message, though somewhat selfishly worded, made me think of inspiration in such a different way. Whenever I’m inspired in such a way that I want to recreate something, I contact the original artist to find out why he did what inspired me, and make my own solution to the problem he wanted to solve. I found it made me smarter and, moreover, made the artist I admired aware of my admiration for his work. It’s far more personal and making art feels much more satisfying.

Create your own solutions, be inquisitive, don’t keep to blind inspiration.

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Making art

‘How do you make a piece of art?’

Making art is difficult at many a stage. No matter what corner of the artistic spectrum is yours. Starting a piece, continuing to create and then finishing are all, in their own rights, difficult steps. Here is a little help through the process of creating.

First: The start. Pushing yourself to write those first words, make that first brush stroke, put your pencil on the paper for those first lines, pick up your instrument and start playing those first chords, go outside to take that first photo or actually open your mouth to let your vocal cords vibrate harmoniously to produce beautiful vocal tones. We all have to start at the beginning. Pushing yourself  to begin is difficult, and here is a reason why.

Disappointment. Or, to nuance, the possibility of disappointment, the knowing that those first chords or the first drawn lines could be wrong or incorrect. It is the knowing that this is possible and the effort put into starting your art, grabbing your things and actually beginning, would be all for naught. But there is also the possibility that starting that piece of work could be the start of your masterpiece. But for the possibility of disappointment, you let your masterpiece go unseen or uncreated. The classical idea of a missed opportunity. Start something knowing that it’s possible that it can fail at first, accept it if it fails, or doesn’t, but then:

Keep going. You have your things you need, you’ve begun putting your efforts into your work, you’re in the mindset and in the flow of expressing yourself.

Keep going! If your work didn’t turn out, start another, try redoing it or, most difficultly and skilful, keep working on that failed work. If you’re drawing’s not going in the direction you’d like, keep going. Keep working and finish it! But remember: Whatever your decision, there is no shame in starting a new work. As long as you keep trying to improve, you keep doing what you like and keep using your skills. You have to keep working on your art. Finally finishing your work after several failed works, after days of trying and after mountains of disappointment and looking at your finished work, your effort exposed on a canvas or in a song, and being happy with that work will be the best feeling. The relief after disappointment of a work working out is the most exhilarating and, most importantly, satisfying. The long awaited and anticipated satisfaction of being happy with your work is amazing.

But then? What to do with your finished piece of pure beauty? Put it in a drawer? Store it on a hard drive to be forgotten? Of course not, silly. Publish it!

Now, this will be a difficult thing. Search some tips on how to publish things, that’s not up to me as I have no clue how to make your work exposed widely, but publishing is a thing I can do, proven by you reading this. Publishing can be hard. Criticism is a thing you will receive, and for some will be something that is difficult to handle. Understandably.

After all this effort and hard work the last thing you’d want is for someone you’ve never met before is to point out what you’ve done “wrong”. But we can get through this. Criticism is something to be happy with, as long as the critic is nice about it. Use it to improve your skill, look at things from a point of view you’ve never taken or thought about. Accepting criticism is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It broadens your view immensely, it makes you look at your work from a view besides your own, a more objective view of someone who does not know your story of making that piece.

Another thing people find difficult when publishing their work is a certain mindset which is very understandable after all that work, after all those disappointments and set-backs. That the piece they made is theirs, and no one else’s. After that work it’s yours, not to be exposed to others but only to you, the creator of that work. What ought to be said is that this isn’t selfishness and should not be treated or degraded as such, as this feeling is a deeply seated one of protection of something that is loved by someone.

But the contentness formed from feeling that your work is beautiful and perfect and yours is destructive to your abilities. Never publishing anything makes you unable to receive feedback and criticism, and does not allow for progressing and refining your skills and crafts.

And remember: Perfection is a myth, as you as the maker will always see things you’re unhappy about in your work from spending a lot of time with it, and something that is perfect to one will not be perfect for another. Strive for perfection, accepting that you will never reach it as perfection doesn’t exist. But do finish it, and publish it.

So, here we are. I started writing this after a long day of postponing. There were several unpublished stories drafted up and deleted before this, and after all that: It’s published.

The next step is up to you, as the consumer or receiver of this, or any work. Leave feedback, criticise, but be nice about it. pointing out the things you like is feedback too, as the artist may have taken it for granted and never looked at the things you find beautiful in the same way you do. It will help the maker infinitely.

Do you speak … ?

It’s a lovely day in the Ardèche in France. There is small village, built on a bridge made out of yellowy cobble, covered by plants, spanning a valley several hundred metres wide. Under the bridge in the shade from the hot summer sun there is a market. It’s a lovely market, all stalls selling produce made and farmed by the locals. Candy, honey, the freshest of fruits, meats and all other things imaginable have their places in the shade given by the bridge. In a corner between a cobble bricked wall and the cliff’s edge there is a stall managed by a tall, large man wearing a white apron and brown leather boots. On the table in front of him there are several nougat cakes on display, pink and white, beige and brown. With nuts in it and without, honey free and some luxurious ones covered with chocolate and nuts. Full cakes and slices sandwiched between sheets of plastic are for sale, and all smell delicious.

A man wearing a fedora and a long black coat and a newspaper rolled up under his arm and who looks woefully out of place between the French locals walks up to the man managing the stand and asks him confidently ‘Do you speak German?’, in bad sounding German with a horrible British accent. The man at the stall looks at him questioning, uttering nothing but ‘Que?’, meaning nothing but ‘What?’.

The British man asks his question again, still in broken german: ‘Do you speak German, sir?’ and looks at him with a friendly and sincere smile. The man behind the stall looks somewhat relieved and replies in equally bad German: ‘No, just French.’

The British man replies excitedly in his broken German ‘Good! Me neither!’ and asks, mostly pointing and quite happily, if he can buy one of the beige, chocolate covered slices of nougat. The French man, who is now smiling greatly at the British man struggling with his lack of words, plays along and only speaks with single, badly pronounced German words.

As the British man walks away from the stall to enjoy his cake, he waves at the man at the stall and says him goodbye, and both smile at each other, as the British man turns away from the market and mumbles to himself: Better on lower equal grounds, both compromised, than both on our high horses, not being lenient and sticking to what we’re comfortable with, yet only ending up erecting barriers between ourselves.

 

Image from quaranta.it

Dripping (pt. 1)

The dripping. The dripping from the roof unto the hard paved floor was what woke me up. Constant dripping, the interval of time between the maddening ticks did not change. It appeared to have been dripping since the dawn of the awful place, as the place where the water dripped onto had eroded into a bowl where the water gathered. How I got there I know not, I used to work as a contractor before this maddening series of events. Now my mind is too cluttered with eldritch thoughts and visuals, none of which comforting, that I cannot keep a job. I now sit at home in a small apartment with shabby walls and old furniture, trying to figure out my shattered mind, lest I cast myself onto the street below my window to finally rid my mind of this taint.

The last thing I do remember, when my mind was unfettered, was a job to renovate an old house sat solitarily atop one of the mountains looming over a forest so dense, that nearly no vehicle could pass through.

The man who owned the house was an old man with a crooked back, a tired old face with saggy eyes and mouth corners hung low and a look of constant fear and confusion. He at first was weary of me and asked me many questions concerning my thoughts and my mind. After a long introduction we finally entered the mansion, and I was struck with confusion and awe. The man, who claimed to be living here, had cleared out the entire house. A foyer bereft of any furniture or decorations. Walls covered in flaking paint, on the floor were chips of paint and wallpaper. The stairs coming up from the centre of the foyer and leading as balconies around the rounded walls of the room were old, wooden and decrepit. Large beams of wood had come down from the ceiling and crashed into the floor below.

The man led me to a room to the left of the foyer, the entrance set between two other doors either side of the room. The room was decorated with a shabby single-person bed and a chair and a table. Papers riddled with unreadable words and incoherent drawings and scribblings littered the room. All furniture was stowed away in a corner lacking any windows, and was lit by a single candle. This was where the man lived.

 From our walking out of the room I remember little, besides unworldly crunching noises and a sudden darkness befalling my vision. This is where the maddening visions and thoughts take their origin in my mind. Since these events my thoughts cannot cohere correctly. Trains of thought crash into eldritch walls constructed by corrupted memories.

To be continued!

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