Creative Inspiration and Motivation: What it is! (and what it ain't)

What illusive quandry evokes an artist's inspiration?

Close-up from Ben Zoltak oil painting
Close-up from Ben Zoltak oil painting

If Charlie Parker's All Stars and Miles Davis can't inspire you, then you better hang yo hat, cat

Below you will find the secret to inspiration...promise.

Over the years, as someone who enjoys painting and writing, I have been asked, "Where do you get the ideas for your work?"

Oftentimes this follows by some sort of confession from the same person that goes something like, "I don't know where you find the inspiration? What does your muse do to you? Do you have to wait for something to strike you just right?"

For me, my art has always been a rough stew of mostly work mixed with rapturous joy. Inspiration is one of those adjectives that some artists can hide behind. Much like the word abstract for an artist who doesn't paint icons, or say, when a religious person doesn't want to justify their beliefs, they just blurt out the name of their favorite prophet. That's not to say that faith in inspiration or religion is ignoble, it's just an easy catch-all. It's like asking a plumber how on earth do you put together an entire condominium's plumbing and he answers: with a wrench. Or as beloved comedian Mitch Hedburg put it, "I tried making my own 7-UP at home because the commercial said it's only made with lemons and limes...but there's more to it than that!"

The other end of the typical argument is that there is no such thing as artistic inspiration. An artist, or anyone really, never receives any real inspiration, it's all just work. You punch in when you pick up your sable brushes, and punch out when you wipe off the last of the turpentine. Or as inventor Thomas Edison once said in one of the most quoted phrases of all time, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration."

Whose going to disagree with Thomas Edison? Well, Nikola Tesla of course, but that's another matter. The point of this argument, that inspiration is practically irrelevant, has it's merits. It points out that you have to get in the trenches of your endeavors, and do whatever it takes to make them come true. What inspires the creation is less important than the creation itself. Now of course, when building a house it's important to keep at it, or the snow will cave your roof in. But if you are trying to construct something creative, a poem, a sculpture, a chocolate desert, then we expect our artists to have divined some heavenly motivation, because otherwise, everybody could create right! That would be chaos! Or would it?

Ben Zoltak's first eBook is an inspirational artlook on life!

Your Life As A Painting
Your Life As A Painting

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Vote and read on!

Do you believe that inspiration is strictly work?

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How do you get motivated or creatively inspired?

Well here's how I do it:

  1. Take off all of your clothes, except for your bloomers of course! Unless you live in Switzerland then yes, you can take off your bloomers too.
  2. Run as fast as you can to the highest elevation in your neighborhood. Once there shout in a deep falsetto voice, "I am a thought muscle give me all your iron!" (if in Switzerland you may shout, "yodolodlodleyhe-who!" at your own risk...)
  3. Run back down the mountain, or ant hill if you live in Nebraska, then go to your oven and heat a beef pot pie.
  4. Consume beef pot pie.
  5. Coat your left elbow (not your right elbow of course!) with vaseline.
  6. Wipe off petroleum jelly from your elbow, wipe on a piece of toast, then ingest.
  7. Begin your creative endeavor, paint, write, make love, what have you.

All humor aside...

Seriously though, don't eat Vaseline toast. Creative inspiration is indeed work and something else. What that something is varies from person to person, from artist to artist. Writer Jack London put it this way, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.

I tend to like London's inclination, but I am one who enjoys a visceral approach to creativity. If I had to choose between a day studying with Vermeer and a day studying with Pollack I would choose Pollack most times. For me inspiration comes from a combination of banging around what knowledge I have stored away in my attic aka cerebellum then harmonizing that with some physical activity i.e. taking my hatchet to the woods in back of my studio and chopping down buckthorn to use as stretchers for my oil paintings. Once you get those two generators hopping, your brain and body, the spiritual element shows up. I don't conjure it on a Ouija board, but I do conjure it by putting my lead foot on the gas pedal of my go-cart called life.

If you're still not sure what inspiration is worth, try to view Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" in your lifetime, then you might begin to see the powerful result. In his words, “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.”

Another of Mr. Picasso's quotes has always rang true for me, especially as I culminate a large body of work: Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.

This idea, putting aside the synesthesia possibilities for a moment, shows what great artists generally keep secret, that you will find inspiration in the unexpected. Surprise is great, especially when it pours from your heart. Poet Maya Angelou put it this way, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

That is what I have come to find to be true. I didn't used to think so. I believe most of the world works this way, hoarding away it's finer discoveries, to be dispensed, at cost, at another date in the unforeseen future. This is unfortunate because the world needs art, love and inspiration as much as ever. We all would do well to take Ms. Angelou's sage direction.

Creative inspiration is not in and of itself motivation enough for most people. They need a routine to get into the zone. Or they need an explanation, as if inspiration couldn't ever just come on it's own. I think for many people inspiration is just plain work. For others it is a mystic cloud damn near imperturbable. For lots of us the motivation to create lies in between in a flurry of paying utility bills, picking garlic mustard for gumbo, stapling canvas to wood and making love in the morning.

I think maybe Miles Davis said it best, “I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning . . . Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

That is the best we can ask for, to do something creative with your life everyday. Get over your masterpiece and your dreams of museum greatness. There's a rhythm worth riding in the wind in the leaves. There's enough inspiration in the whorls of your fingerprints. If you need motivation start with a dance and end with your sweat!



Pablo Picasso's "Guernica"
Pablo Picasso's "Guernica"

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Comments 36 comments

ralwus 6 years ago

Great hub Ben! It is so true. Any inspiration I get for painting or writing takes a lot of thinking about it. That is labor enough for me, then one must actually do the thing, more labor. Inspiration and creation go hand in hand with labor resulting in a piece of art. But then, it is in the eye of the beholder, I like that fine abstract you did up there, nice work son.


Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Hello Ben, my highly creative friend. I agree, "What inspires the creation is less important than the creation itself." This Hub is filled with food for thought; inspiration for my creative juices (which lean toward lime rather than lemon). Thanks for the many words of wisdom and visuals including old friend Guernica which actually adorned the largest wall of my childhood bedroom.


AARON99 6 years ago

Excellent hub with a different kind of topic. It is true, that inspiration is the mother behind the creativity, but again it is not everything. Inspiration doesn't alive without creativity. Well done. Enjoy.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

inspiration indeed, I admire artist as they have a different world view, skills, talent and inspiration plus imagination. A work which they can convey their feelings and their view of the world, isnt that amazing? Maita


blackmarx profile image

blackmarx 6 years ago from Rice Lake, WI

Another great hub Ben. Where ever inspiration comes from,it just hit me after reading your hub. Thanks for the motivation. I agree with every point made here. It's good to see you from your vacation.


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Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Ralwus I try. It's been tough lately, life is pulling on my reigns but you know, we do what we have to until we can do what we want.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Green Lotus, I love that you had Guernica in your room growing up, that says a lot. I had a great poster of one of Van Gogh's sunflowers and Dali's art throughout college. You've got me trying to remember my high school art and I think it was mostly my own, mixed in with some music posters (The Beatles, The Who) along with a few images of Winona Ryder, LOL. Thanks for checking out my latest, I'm honored.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

Inspiration is tricky stuff. I think we are largely inspired by our interests. A beautician can see a head of hair and be inspired to cut it in a creative way. I see a head of hair and think it might make an interesting drawing. A retailer might see a head of hair and think of selling someone a comb. We train ourselves to see things in a certain way, and that becomes our inspiration. I would love to be financially inspired, for example, but haven't learned to see financial opportunity around me. (Maybe there's still time.....)

You've written a very thought-provoking article, Ben. I will rate and stumble it.

Mike


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you Aaron, especially from a fellow hubber who is renowned for his image-based hubs! I appreciate the kudos mon frere.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks PDK I have read about your appreciation of artists before and I'm glad you are our advocate!


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Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Blackmarx! I have only been on vacation from "real" jobs, haha, but looks like I'm back to juggling my creative endeavors with bills and reality, ah well, a jobs a job. Thanks for the accolade, I appreciate it.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Mike, your comment made me smile. Indeed that is a great way to look at inspiration, as opportunity ready to be plucked around us. Financially, I'm usually the one who gets plucked first unfortunately, haha. I like your take on our varying differences and our learned behavior regarding our "sight", thank you for the sincere insight.


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for a very thought provoking hub. I think inspiration is all around us and we only have to see it. There is so much happening and with the media and internet we get constantly informed. I, myself, get a lot from books. I must have been a bookworm in previous life.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Aw thanks Hello, hello, that's very flattering to say. Books books and more books, viva la libre! I'll bet you were a bookworm in your past life!


Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

What does my muse do to me?! Well, first she straps me into the harness, then she tells me my safe word... But seriously, very interesting hub, Monsieur Zoltak! I've found the same things to be true. You have to put yourself in a disposition for inspiration, generally by reading about your chosen art and thinking about it. Then your own ideas just start flowing. Flowing like the first period of a Russian gymnast. Listening to music seems to get the juices flowing as well. And according to Coleridge, opium really gets the juices flowing. Y'know what? I'll stop saying 'flowing' now.

Cheers!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Art, thank you, I had a great laugh when I read this earlier, now still as funny, especially as the alcohol is flowing. That's the best I can do after some Mezzacorona. I think we c i 2 i with inspiration. I will have to research Coleridge! Benny


Niteriter profile image

Niteriter 6 years ago from Canada

Another fine piece of work here, Ben! Your turns of phrase are as delightful as always and your point is well presented. Best wishes to you, brother!


JannyC profile image

JannyC 6 years ago

You blew my mind. In a good way.


Ann Nonymous profile image

Ann Nonymous 6 years ago from Virginia

Thank you for a very inspiring and creative hub, Ben!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Nitey! (how's that for a nickname) thank you for stopping by, I'm always flattered by your compliments. Your writing is worthy of the printed page, so I hope you are working on a few ( I mean books of course, not Irish whiskey's, but those are fair game too)


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Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you Janny, I aim to please, both in my writing, and in el bano!


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Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks you Ann for visiting the wacky and oft kilted and kiltered world of Zoltakdom!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Ben, this is a wonderful hub. I see inspiration everywhere. Much of the time I don't even know what I am going to write about until I get started. The same when I work on stained glass. I get the glass out and soon I will see what I want to make. The inspiration is first for me, but the work is tedious and can't be underestimated. I am particular, so I sometimes spend too much time on any given project. Your hub really gave me something to think about. Thumbs up!


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

I know two other stained glass artists Pamela, what a wonderful art form. Thank you for letting me know that my words gave you something to think about, it means a lot to me. In your recognition of inspiration being first, it's made think more deeply about it's place for me too.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines

I love this hub! It just resonates well with me. I must say, it inspires me!

I also love the quote from Picasso - "Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone".

Thank you for sharing this Ben.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you Jill I appreciate it coming from a writer as creative as yourself. That quote from Picasso hits close to home for me, it's the way I've felt about inspiration since I was a young man.


Money Glitch profile image

Money Glitch 6 years ago from Texas

Great thought provoking and creative hub. I like to think that creativity, inspiration, and motivation comes from within one's self, however it may take a lot of work to manifest it to the point that all may see it in reality. Thumbs up! :)


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks MG and I agree with you, creativity and inspiration come from within, but I'm not sure about motivation, at least for myself. Manifesting your art, to use your word, takes something extra, some kind of spark. Thanks for the accolade!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore

Well I'm pretty disappointed....I followed all points from 1-7 and came up with nothing, zilch. Then I read you were only joking. All that for nothing! .

I'm inspired/motivated by thinking ahead and imagining something coming into being...something great, though unfortunately the reality rarely matches the greatness of the conception. I do agree with Edison that some discipline is needed or the inspiration is apt to just float off into the ether. Then again if you're motivated you don't need discipline..you *want* to it...in fact your'e busting to do it.

Creativity is a mystery...

Cheers


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you for the generous and inquistive response Miss Bovary. It is true, oftentimes I jest, but why can't it be both? I agree about the measure of conception versus the real product too, but it's great that we try and try and try. The grooves on our fingers are there for a reason, or at least as a historical reciept of where our ancestors have been. What motivates us, what causes our inspiration is ephemeral methinks, how could we have it any other way? Na astrovia!


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Superb hub and being a huge beBop fan loved your Charlie Parker reference and song. Miles Davis words we can all live by: My future starts when I wake up every morning . . . Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thanks Billy kind of you to say so, more Miles Davis and an art future for all!!!

Ben


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

Thank you for sharing this hub Ben. very interesting and plenty of food for thought. I have only just found you on here and I look forward to reading more of your work. I am bookmarking this one.Take care.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

Thank you Eiddwen for the compliment. Your words come just in time as I am trying doggedly to finish a short book about inspiration and life.

Thanks again,

Ben


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America

I've just rated your recent Hub containing a collection of your paintings Up. I enjoyed it very much, bookmarked and shared it. The use of color, particularly in the citiy scapes, waterfall, and turutle are great - I could look at them for hours.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA Author

I was wondering who might break the arbitrary bounds of comments here and sure enough it's Patty Inglish!!!!!!!!

Patty, you are some kind of saint, if I wasn't already married I would track you down and ask you to espresso. Thank you kindly for recognizing my art, ah it is so difficult to become recognized as an artist in America these days, apparently only corrupt politicians and bankers get kudos for the most part. Yet you have gone out of your way to type my artego a few words and I love you for it. Yes, my cauldron of images is certainly a collection, I am so honored that you might look at them for hours, I hope they are so much on there own. Say a prayer to the great holy spirit that we here in Wisconsin will be protected from thieves in high places, that's what we are up against.

thanks Patty for keeping an eye on me and my art you are a sweetheart.

Your friend Ben

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