Anyone who’s taken a stroll in the art world has probably heard of the term “inspiration.” I know living in the world world, it’s something I hear about all the time as one of the most vital things about being an artist. It’s that magical, unearthly feeling of experiencing something; an event, a sensation, another piece of art, and being filled with a desire to create because of it.
It’s probably one of my favorite things about art. It’s much more than just looking at something and thinking it’s pretty. It’s an enabler. A strong desire to make something from such experience. I love that feeling. More often than not, it’s a rush of beauty and joy that flows through my head and puts in my hands an itch to create.
What’s also amazing is the different things that inspire different artists: Van Gogh was inspired by nature, Warhol was inspired by graphic design, even way back in time, Romans were inspired by the Greeks and the Renaissance artists by them with the mixture of technology and engineering that was coming back! … For me, inspiration happens when I’m in the presence of great beauty, and also mental stimulation (chemistry) or spiritual contemplation (churches). This is why my sketch books are filled with hydrocarbons and sketches of saints and angels.
Inspiration is falling in love.
But sometimes love fades.
So does inspiration.
Sometimes, being inspired isn’t enough to create something though. I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve been ‘inspired’ to do, then abandoned because I’ve lost interest.
Sometimes you may have started something and decided it wasn’t a good enough idea, but some art needs to be brought to completion. There is a story or vision that needs to be told.
I’ve written a short list of five things to do when you want to create, but the inspiration fades away. This is different from art block as it has more to do with what happens when you lose inspiration rather than if it was never there. 1. Stop waiting for inspiration
You can’t force inspiration. You can put yourself in an environment where you’re more susceptible to it, but inspiration comes on its own accord. If you go out trying to force that same feeling of inspiration that you felt when you first started your project, you’ll only frustrate yourself. If you wait around for inspiration, that’s even worse. It may never come again. At least, not in the same way it did before. You may find yourself not finishing projects or taking forever to do so.
2. Just sit down and do it
I found that a huge part of art involved how much I just needed to sit down and do it. I found that I’ve always wanted to start projects, but I’ve never wanted to finish them. Time management is a huge part of this part of motivation. More often than not, I just had to drag myself into the studio and and tell myself I’m only going to work on something for 15 minutes. Sometimes after starting to work on a project, I’ll get really into it and spend anywhere to 45 minutes to two hours!
3. Set a Time Limit
Anyone who’s been following me these last few months may have noticed that the art I’ve finished was either requested by someone else or gift for someone. Having a time limit really helped me commit myself to these projects. I’ve met and heard of artists who have taken sometimes years to work on a project, but my philosophy is that’s really bad for business. If someone’s paying you to do art, you should get it done in a timely manner.
With my Terrace at Night Van Gogh copy that I made for my aunt, I told her in February it would take five months. I got it done in three. It was also easier to finish Our Lady of the Wood and the Imperial Guard painting when I told myself I would finish those in time for Mother and Father’s Day. If I didn’t sit down and come up with a due date, I probably never would have started on them, let alone complete them.
5. Go Back to What Inspired You
Sometimes, it might help to go back to the source of your inspiration. Go back to that hike you went on, the museum you were at, or that Pinterest board where you first felt inspired. Don’t go back to it too much in a short period of time, though, it might lose its luster.
This morning, I overslept, still woke up early enough to where I’m not leaving the door for work 20 minutes before my shift, but still enough that it caused a detriment to my morning routine.
Even so, I found that I had some extra time today than I did yesterday (and I did manage to get up at 5 yesterday) and I thought, “Great! I can actually get to painting my Caravaggio head study that I’ve been putting off the last three days.”
Then I stepped into my art studio.
I stepped into the studio, and it was dark, cold, and chilling.
I could possibly, I dunno, go turn on the lights (which are actually in an inconvenient place), put on warmer clothes, promise myself I’ll only paint for five minutes, then not, but nope! I’ve opted to go back into my slightly warmer living room and write a blog post instead with YouTube videos playing ensuring my distraction from what I’ve been put on this earth to do.
So many reasons to not paint. Just stay in bed, play on the computer, type up this blog entry hoping to talk myself into painting while this still time before I have to get ready to leave…
Ever since I was a little girl, spiders meant different to me than what they might have meant to you: cool-looking weavers that made beautiful tapestries in the trees which they used to eradicate the actual bad bugs.
Another thing that contributed to this mindset also stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a place where poisonous spiders were only slightly more common than winning the lottery or getting stuck by lightning. The movie, Charlotte’s Web, which featured the protagonist’s “mentor” as a kind, pretty spider that dies tragically was a film I enjoyed immensely.
Last year, I was on a year-long study abroad trip in Italy. Over Christmas break, my now-husband flew to visit, and proposed! After the break was over, and he left, I fell into a depression. Partly missing him, partly scared of the many changes that would take place after getting home.
One night, I had a dream that mortified me. This dream stayed in my head days after it happened. No dream ever shook me before like this one.
I saw two spiders, a dark brown and a yellow one, emerge out of some food I was eating wrestling with one another. The dark brown one devoured the yellow one. The weirdest part was, this spider actually scared me. I took off my shoe and was about to crush the spider with it, but I woke up just before the blow hit.
Days after, it was consuming me. I drew spiders all the time. After generally not believing dreams had meaning, I KNEW this one did. I did a quick internet search of spider symbology, but all I got was spiders signified “great change.” Let’s be honest. A freaking cow fart means “great change” in New Age symbology. I gave up that internet search pretty quick.
Then, one day, I bought Camille Paglia’s book, “Sexual Personae.” I just discovered this woman, a non-establishment feminist and art critic, who said so many things about the tragic nature of art in academia that I believed wholeheartedly, but could never put into words with the same precision that she did. I was excited to read one of her books, and oh how beautiful the words, with the same cutting diction as when she speaks, but yet, differently, with a sense of love, enjoyment, and enthusiasm for art that you don’t always get when she speaks. It was like reading poetry celebrating humanity, yet rife with a warning of blood, gore, and cruelty brought about by both Man and Nature. When she spoke of femininity, it was both with admiration… and caution. Throughout history, Woman had immense power-much more than we care to admit today- through our femininity alone. The ability to paralyze men with a gaze, to pit men against each other to win our favor, to bring destruction to established order that was built as a defense against Nature and her wolves, storms, and serpents. After all, we-women- ARE Nature.
According to Paglia, in art, there is no Male Gaze, the women depicted in art are gazing at US.
As I read her book, with a certain dark fascination with this side of femininity- and a slight sense of guilty pride, I came across a sentence that just put everything into place. Finally, my dream made sense.
“Hoever, the danger of the homme fatal, as embodied in today’s boyish male hustler, is that he will leave, disappearing to other loves, other lands. He is a rambler, a cowbody and sailor. But the danger of the femme fatasle is that she will stay, still, placid, and paralyzing. Her remaining is a daemonic burden, the ubiquity of Walter Pater’s Mona Lisa, who smothers history. She is a thorny symbol of the perversity of sex. She will stick.”
Just then, everything clicked. I knew what I was dreading. I knew what that dream meant.
I was afraid of getting married. There was a dark part of me that saw it as an inescapable trap.
Only it wasn’t me that was being trapped.
Without going too much into detail, it made me terrified of myself. The evil within. The evil I was capable of. Human beings, especially those who genuinely believed they could do no wrong, have committed unthinkable atrocities to one another throughout history.
In my own personal experience, the people who were the most sure of their personal morality (Christians, atheists, left and right-wingers, doesn’t matter), usually had the most vile and disgusting things to say about people they didn’t like. Whereas the people in my life who were open to the idea that they could be wrong, or not as moral, were the best and most honest people.
Yet, there’s a reason why Evil is typically associated with Snakes in Western Culture. It’s heavily ingrained in our biology due to the fact our ancestors had very unpleasant encounters with them, but also that snakes are sneaky, if you’re not watching out, they can blend into your environment and get you when you’re not looking. Your spouse came home grumpy and snaps at you? Chances are you’re thinking in the back of your mind how to get back at him/her. You might be suppressing that feeling, but it’s there. You know it’s there. If it happens enough, your desire to come out will spring and strike like the venomous snake it is. Or maybe, you’ve been conditioned to be weak and helpless because your overbearing, malevolent boss conditioned you to be: someone weak, unable to take autonomy, and forever unsure of yourself… letting out your resentment when you get home, sabotaging your own work, or becoming bitter to your coworkers who don’t have power over you, but now don’t want to help you because of your attitude.
This is also why we get satisfaction out of violent video games or movies like The Purge. There’s a sense of Catharsis that we’re conditioned not to exhibit, yet get’s played out in that media.
So, does that mean we’re doomed? Are human beings so flawed that we’re destined to become either a monster or a bitter, sniveling weakling that makes our situation worse? Not necessarily. The same drive towards rage and violence can be utilized to be protectors, and make bullies back down if we can show we are capable. If we can integrate our “shadow” personality, our lives would be much more fulfilling and easier to take whatever life throws at us (Carl Jung).
So let’s make some art based on it!
Upcoming Project: Self Portrait as Medusa (working title)
I’m inspired by Caravaggio’s painting of David and Goliath with Goliath’s dismembered head actually being his self portrait.
Maybe it was the most convenient, but there’s something I find fascinating about being willing to cast yourself as the villain. There’s almost an extreme sense of empathy required to do so. It’s not thinking “What would I do in a villain’s situation?” but “What would I do if I grew up exactly the way the villain did, and believed everything they believe?” Which is a much more difficult exercise, but I think a necessary one. Again, I doubt that’s what was going through Caravaggio’s mind, but it’s certainly going through mine.
Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath
The Medusa Story
The Medusa story is interesting to me. It seems as though it’s been a study of the dark side of femininity for a long time.
According to Ovid, Medusa was formerly a priestess of Athena who was raped by Poseidon. Since Greek deities are kind of the worst, if that wasn’t enough, Medusa’s beauty had been on object of resentment for Athena. People were coming to Athena’s temple to see Medusa and get a glance at her beauty. After Poseidon’s attack on Medusa, this was simply Athena’s chance to get vengeance on Medusa, fashion for her a monstrous form, and banish her to a far away island, and help Perseus kill her.
In the traditional interpretation, Medusa symbolizes the gaze and judgement men feel when trying to approach and pursue a beautiful woman. Men fear Medusa the same way men fear the rejection of women.
A lot of feminist scholars will portray Medusa as the victim. Understandably so, she was raped, then the Goddess she dedicated her life to punished her for it. She then becomes a symbol of righteous feminine rage and retribution. Unfortunately, that’s where the interpretation seems to stop. No condemnation of Athena for lacking any kind of support to her loyal subject. Worse of all, Medusa has no agency. No control over self, nor is she expected to. She is a victim, and that’s the end of it.
Perseus is no longer seen as a hero, but just another aggressor. One who invaded her place of solitude. Only this time, he obliterates her completely.
As you might have guessed, I don’t like the interpretation where Medusa has no agency. Everything that happens is only because other people did terrible things to her. That’s not trivialize the terrible things that happen to her, and do happen to women (and men) today. I can think of at least one specific example where a male politician raped several women working for him, and his wife turning around and did everything she could to silence them. So, yes, it does happen today.
But people seem to forget about Medusa’s power. It’s a deadly, not fun power, sure, it’s still powerful. Not only that, but I find it highly likely that Medusa very well might have enjoyed her newfound superpowers. Since a man has wronged her, she uses her power to end the lives of any and all men that would come near her. It would definitely ensure that something like that would never happen again. Many today would say that Medusa was not viscous monster the Greeks of old came to be, but a helpless victim, but I think it likely the events that happened turned her into viscous monster on the inside as well as the outside.
Medusa is the anti-Cinderella. While Cinderella remained good while malevolent people were being cruel to her ever day, Medusa would instead more and more viscous in her treachery and isolation. Human beings, as cruel as we are instead, generally tend to be more like Medusa after being treated wrongly, ultimately making our situations worse.
Not only that, but Perseus used Medusa’s head in many battles, using her power to fight evil forces. Something Medusa was unable to do herself.
That’s my own interpretation. What happens when something traumatic happens to you? How do you cope with it? Do you seek vengeance on the world, becoming at least as bad if not worse than forces who turned you into this monster, until a hero finally rises up and puts an end to your nightmare? Or, do you learn how to incorporate your newfound savagery? Maybe realizing a power you never had, then using it to defend not only yourself, but others weaker than you? One path leads down to nothingness and despair, the other path, maybe Medusa could have become hero with awesome godlike power.
I took my sketchbook and spent about a minute sketching my face in a screaming expression (also, I got a new haircut). I think for a quick study, it didn’t turn out too bed. I was able to think of all the frustrations I suffered in the past year and captured it into a single moment. Not just with my expression, but with my hands too.
I have no idea what I want the final painting to look like, but I’m sure the process itself will be informative. I have a lot of questions in my head about the nature of good and evil. I hope this painting will serve as a an effective exploration as well as catharsis and therapy.
Two posts in one day! I was sick yesterday, and forgot to post to my blog.
I wasn’t feeling all that creative this morning, so I just practiced scales for reference. The sketchbook I’m using is a tiny 4×6 sketchbook which was not only inexpensive, but also great for carrying around. I took it with me on my birthday backpacking trip.
So, the theme of Day 2 of the Daily Dragons of June is “Fruit.” I didn’t have a particular idea in mind when I chose the theme, but as I was falling asleep last night, I was reminded of this uncanny coincidence that happened in my life last year.
When I was living in Italy, I was painting this:
I wasn’t influenced by anything, it was just an image that kind of came to me. When I got back home, my mother and I were having a conversation, and she was telling me how a few months prior, she was thinking about a friend who was getting married and kept getting deeper and deeper into debt adding on things to her wedding that weren’t really necessary. As my mother was falling asleep, these words came to her mind: “The Serpent wraps around her neck and whispers in her ear, “You deserve more.'”
Now, I didn’t tell her about the painting I was doing. I didn’t send her any pictures (because at the time it was very unfinished), and it wasn’t even on any social media. She didn’t even mention that anecdote to me until months later when I got back home. It was almost disturbing how we were on different sides of the world and essentially thinking the exact same thing at the same time.
I took this to mean that this is something very important. Kind of like how Eve couldn’t be content with the good things she had, she became convinced that she deserved more even if it meant death. At the same time, we seem to lack the ability to be content with what we have in love, we keep driving ourselves to misery just seeking more and more.
That’s what was on my mind morning. Oftentimes, it’s much more than “it would be nice if things were different,” but this idea that we deserve more than what we have now.
Also joining me in this challenge is the artist @art.foliage with this fun picture of a dragon squashing tomatoes! Please click the link to see more of art.foliage’s art on Instagram!
If you’re an artist and would like to do this challenge, here are the prompts below, be sure to put #DailyDragon so that I can find you and maybe feature you on here!