Where does inspiration come from? How can it seem so random?

In an interview on the Dick Cavett Show in 1970, Paul Simon (of Simon & Garfunkel) spoke of how he was inspired by a Bach chorale and gospel music to form the melody for “Bridge over Troubled Water.” These two disparate musical forms collided to build this uplifting hymn, now woven into the sonic cloth of American culture. Inspiration can surprise and be so elusive, but it is often informed by the culture we live and breathe.

What is inspiration? 

When the New Testament was translated from ancient Greek into Latin, and then Latin into English, the word “inspiration”* was literally translated from “God-breathed” (Greek—theopneustos) to “divinely breathed into” (Latin—divinitus inspirata) to “to breathe or blow into” (English—inspiration). This translation history of inspiration overtly acknowledges the spiritual transaction in the process of creativity. As Christians, we recognize God’s intervention in the creative process, and yet we can’t control inspiration any more than we can control God.

Where does inspiration come from in the “unprecedented times?”

As we seek and pray for inspiration for our creative work, I advise that we increase our lung capacity to allow more room to inhale when God breathes into us. These are challenging days. What follows are moments of random inspiration that touch upon my creative life during this pandemic.

Nonpareil:** Attraction and Repulsion

Attraction and repulsion, a famous pair.

About a week ago, I watched the 1959 classic Ben-Hur for the first time. I was moved by the scene when after the protagonist has regained his freedom and social stature, he must go to the Valley of the Lepers to find his sister and mother, who he believed were dead.

When he nears them and can identify them, he is struck with such a conflict—a primeval attraction to embrace his most-loved, and the visceral repulsion of their wretched and contagious condition. Witnessing this encounter seemed all the more poignant, as I mentally and emotionally bridged our current Covid-19 pandemic to the ancient scourge of leprosy. It seemed so relevant—the distance that was maintained, the covering of the faces, the desire to be close to those that we care about, but the grim consequences of disregarding the physical boundaries.

Attraction. 

In the artwork Nonpareil, a human bust sits covered with sprinkles, resting in a tray of 10 pounds of sprinkles. This work is in an exhibition that opened on March 5. Days later the gallery was shuttered because of the advancing pandemic. Still, even at the opening reception, the attraction of the colorful sprinkles was obvious, especially to those under 10. By the evening’s end, little fingers (either contradicting or unaware of the “no-touch” entreaties of their parents) had strewn sprinkles across the floor and probably placed a few in their little mouths. When I revisited the dark gallery some weeks later, I noticed furrows of small fingers pulled across the previously-leveled surface.

Repulsion.

A few days ago, I was video conferencing with a student of mine who has been on lockdown in Florence, Italy, for six weeks. She described the experience of venturing out to the grocery store: standing in line for 30 minutes, receiving mandatory sanitizer gel and gloves at the door, being admitted one-by-one, etc. She spoke about her early discomfort, standing in line as strangers would chat back and forth, outing her as a non-Italian-speaking foreigner. As days passed, face masks were soon mandated for everyone when out in public, and she immediately noticed that a hush fell on the queues. In the following days, lines grew longer as the spaces between people expanded to two meters, and masks covered each face, further discouraging social interaction. Each human, a potential threat.

Tan Lines, Back-to-school, Fall 2020

Tan Lines, Back-to-school, Fall 2020, graphite on paper

Sometimes, by God’s grace, we can find some levity in challenging times. Our experiences leave marks on us. Some alter our bodies permanently; others will fade with time . . . and a little less UVA radiation. Tan Lines came out of some doodling on a sketchbook page, and to me, it reveals a serious expression framed by a comical lingering effect. This picture faithfully affirms survival of a pandemic, and it hints at an unforeseen side-effect of our struggle. It makes me think of our human vanity, and it makes me smile.

Wicked Corona

Artists often process challenges by making art. In these times,  creatives everywhere are exploring new outlets outside their principal artistic disciplines. Just like the wonderful suggestions made in the Engage Art blog post, Make Art Where You Are with What You Have, I was inspired to write a song and record it. As an art instructor, I am going through the emotional frustration of being distanced from my students, challenged with trying to teach studio art online, etc. I thought a fun song might help my students see a different side of me and bring some encouragement.

In summary, from one creative to another, my advice in these unprecedented times is to:

  • Increase your lung capacity to accept the breath of God (inspiration!).
  • Keep experiencing art and culture.
  • Find inspiration and connection wherever it shows up in your life.
  • Make art, my friends. Make art.

 

* For example, “inspired by God” or “God-breathed” in II Timothy 3:16

** We are in “unprecedented times” and “Nonpareil” means “without equal or unparalleled.” It also happens to be the name of a small, round confection you sprinkle on cupcakes.

Author Bio: Micah Bloom

Micah Bloom is an artist and educator teaching at Minot State University. He earned his MFA in Painting and Drawing at the University of Iowa and has been selected for numerous artist–in–residence fellowships. His paintings have been published in literary and art journals, and he has shown work nationally and internationally, including private galleries in China and the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. His multi-media project with Minot, North Dakota’s flooded books, Codex, was exhibited throughout the US and his book was recently received into the Rare Books collection at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Married for 18 years, Micah and his wife Sara, share four daughters and two sons, and they all love to make things.