Where Ideas Come From, Part II

On Wednesday I talked about where I get creative ideas, but that’s not nearly as interesting to me as where other people find inspiration; there are few things I love better. Here are some of my favorites, almost all of them mentioned by a handful of the hundreds of artists I’ve talked to.


~~The Muse. This is probably the most common answer to “Where do you get ideas?” but it’s not a really satisfactory one because it doesn’t go far enough. Who is your particular muse? And how to you invoke her? If it’s a real person, how do they inspire you? And if it’s an imaginary being, then where are you actually getting the ideas? This is my least-favorite answer because it doesn’t really say anything except, “Please don’t ask me that question,” which is cool—it’s fine that some people have no desire even to *think* about where their ideas actually originate—but it’s ultimately unsatisfying, alas.


~~The Universe. My friend Wendy Hale Davis, who is featured in Living the Creative Life, explained that she believes there are universal ideas out there just waiting to be tapped into. This makes sense if you’ve ever noticed how two artists on opposite sides of the country who have never seen each other’s work suddenly create new, novel stuff that is remarkably similar, and then you look around a little and find half a dozen other people have seemingly tapped into the same source of inspiration and are producing work that seems to stem from the same core idea. How does this work? I have no idea, but lots of people swear by it and say the only thing you have to do is to be open to the flow of ideas that’s out there, all the time. Learning to tap into it is the hard part, but once you figure that out, you’ll never lack for inspiration.


~~Nature. This is one of the most common answers, and it makes a lot of sense, too. Not only is nature fabulous, full of things that grow and change and help create other things, but getting out in nature is a way to put yourself somewhere else, somewhere *other*—out of the studio, away from the bench, out of the confines of walls and a roof. You don’t have to be inspired by leaves to find new ideas just by breathing in air that hasn’t been filtered through your heating and cooling system. Lots of people swear by putting some part of your body in physical contact with some part of the earth: walking barefoot on the ground, lying in the grass, hugging a tree (sounds corny, but it’s not).


~~The City. For people who live in a big city, being outdoors doesn’t always include a lot of nature. Many people, though, find plenty of inspiration just by being out on the sidewalk, walking through crowds and hearing snippets of others’ conversations. For them, there’s something about the energy and diversity and noise and odors that gets their brains humming with ideas that may have nothing to do with anything brought in by their senses but that did, somehow, find its genesis there. Jonah Lehrer, in his (scandalous, recalled) book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, writes about the research of Geoffrey West, who studied cities and says that “When people come together, they become much more productive per capita,” which Lehrer extrapolates in arguing that living in big cities makes people more creative. Just being around other creative people makes people more creative, they claim. Ideas coming from other ideas, maybe? Who knows how it works, the spark that ignites the creative firing of synapses? Researchers keep trying to figure it out, looking inside creative brains and reading their data. I keep asking nosy questions; come back next Wednesday (check back on Monday for our next give-away post) for more sources of inspiration.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

Living the Creative LifeRead more about creative ideas in Ricë’s book, Living the Creative Life.





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