The Art of Painting (1666-68) by Jan Vermeer

As a writer of creative fiction, I sometimes wonder what inspires artistic creation, and where ideas for novels and stories emerge. I hope to offer some thoughts that might be helpful in the pursuit of any artistic endeavor, whether writing music, prose, poetry, etc.

It goes without saying that a thorough education in one’s artistic field is essential. For the composer it means absorbing the evolution of styles, genres, and composers through music history. In writing, it is essential to read as abundantly and widely as possible, in all kinds of genres of novels, stories, and poetry as any and all of them can inspire artistic creation.
At some point, you might become rather discerning in your tastes of what art particularly appeals to you. This is true for me, and has helped lead me toward the kinds of works I choose to write about, what pleases me aesthetically, and what kinds of art I particularly enjoy. Therefore, I try to the best of my ability to be a student in the area of my interest.

Therefore, an adage for artistic creation is also to know oneself. Know what your tastes and preferences are in music, film, books, visual art, etc. Become acutely aware of what draws you in, and what doesn’t. These are important clues for what inspires you artistically.  It is unfortunate, I believe for a composer, writer, or visual artist to be told by others in the profession what kinds of styles are currently in the “mode”. Art is really an individual, self-initiated practice that while it does include a rigorous education into understanding the history and achievements in a particular artistic field, yet we also need to understand ourselves. Art is an inside job, what we are drawn to subjectively, that may or not match the artistic preferences of others.

As an example, I write about historical eras, largely taking place in early 20th century America, so I tend to absorb all matter of art, music, and film from that era. By such immersion artistic ideas emerge almost of their own accord. I become acutely aware of scenes that play out in my mind’s eyes and ears of Depression Era diners, of old jalopies chugging down empty highways, of Jazz music crackling from the Victrola phonograph and Crosley radio speakers. Even though, these scenes might emerge in a story I’m working on, if I were working in other art forms, I could imagine how they could equally inform music, painting, film, etc.

Of course, this is merely an example of what inspires me. The invitation for the early creative artist is to know what worlds inspire you and to immerse yourself in that world. This is one way to reduce the chance of creative blockage, which can strike a composer of music, a visual artist, a writer of poetry, etc.

If you are having trouble being inspired by sitting in one’s room, and facing the blank canvas, page, or music staff, then take an excursion to a place that would intrigue you artistically—it could be a park, a hiking trail, a museum, even a movie. Just allow yourself to be absorbed all the visual and auditory elements. A suggestion is to keep an artist’s notebook where you can jot down inspirations, dreams, and spontaneous ideas.

Artistic creation is much like taking care of a flowering plant. If we nourish our artistic side over time, we will perhaps be amazed at what great creations will bloom.