The Meaning of Inspiration


In the world of art and design, the word inspiration is often used. But what does ‘inspiration’ really mean? I get the impression that many people think that liking and then stealing parts of another artist’s work is called being inspired by that artist. But what one is actually doing is just copying someone else. Is that really the true meaning of inspiration?

One morning I saw a beautiful sunrise. It was an incredible sight. While watching that sunrise, I thought to myself “Has there ever been an artist who could paint a sunrise just as phenomenal as what I am witnessing right now?” And I thought the answer had to be “no.” Subsequently I thought “Who then, is the miraculous artist that has made this sunrise?” And I thought the answer had to be “no one.”

So the impersonal, natural creative process that created this universe and this earth so beautifully and profound, is the greatest artist. Yet there is no one there, no person, nobody intended to do anything.

But the way a human being deals with reality is often through a process of copying what others do. You see this very clearly in babies and children who have to find their way in life by copying behavior and ideas. So copying parts of the work of someone else and calling that ‘inspiration,’ seems like a rather childish interpretation of the word inspiration.

I think that true inspiration is a process in which ‘the personal’ momentarily drops away, so that an impersonal creativeness, that is greater than the personal self, can be received. Going back to my example of the sunrise, that would mean opening up to the mystery of the sunrise and subsequently being able to communicate that experience, to people who are open to it, through making a painting.

That has in essence nothing to do with copying the work of someone else. So the simplistic interpretation of the word inspiration may just be the result of being closed off and unable to be truly inspired.