I would define artistic inspiration in this way: it is the moment wherein the artist discovers something worth sharing.
An inspiration is the starting point of any artistic endeavour. They are ideas, but more than that they are emotions, excitements. They are hang-ups, wake-ups, sections of the world elevated just high enough for us to stumble over. They are spirits that demand bodies – spirits who demand of the artist a vessel, a work, so they may live independently.
Nothing will get you nothing. Think of a flint: if you strike it against nothing, you won’t get a spark; if you strike it against the wrong thing, like wood or plastic, you won’t get a spark; but if you strike it against the right thing, like steel, you’ll soon have fire.
In this way, we too must strike ourselves against the right thing if we want spark. Inspiration is borne from experience, through contact with the world. It could be anything that does it: a scene in a film; a documentary; an overhead conversation; a good lecture; a quiet dinner; a misheard lyric. It’s simply a matter of finding what excites you, interests you, baffles you, wakes you up. It doesn’t always happen immediately. It can be arbitrary, as anything in life can be. It can strike weeks, months, years later – but only if you have the experience to begin with. Put yourself into the world. Be open to experience. Understand yourself and your feelings; let the rest happen naturally.
You’ve discovered something worth sharing with others. You’re convinced that this is an idea that’s worth standing independent of you. So, what’s next? Finding inspiration is only the start. Next comes the hard task of reverse-engineering.
Art is the translation of experience and emotion. For our purposes, it can also be understood as the translation of an inspiration into a work. After finding your inspiration, then, your next step is to understand what you felt and why. Once you understand that, you’ll have an idea of how to make others feel it – and once you know that, you’re ready to draft.
And remember: hold on to your inspirations, but don’t be beholden to them. Every project has long dark nights. Revisit your inspiration when you’re in the nadir. Remembering its worthiness will fortify you, making it easier to push through to the end.
Not only that, but one inspiration often leads to more. Revisiting your inspirations when you’re at a dead end will often lead you to new inspirations.
And remember, a lot changes over the course of a project. Material reality, your ability (and the ability of your team, if you’re working with one), as well as the new ideas you’ve encountered on the way, will shape your work in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. And that’s okay. If the soul of your project is unified and the body you’re constructing it is fitting, nothing has been betrayed. Inspiration isn’t a dogma. Nothing will ever be perfect and true. Don’t let perfect stop you from making something good.