The double-edged sword of inspiration
by, May 19th, 2009 at 02:02 PM (1906 Views)
If you refer to almost any "how-to" book in any creative field (e.g. writing, painting, music etc.), most authors will suggest to immerse yourself in the respective field you're trying to break into. The logical thinking is that this will inspire you and help you keep your finger on the pulse of new ideas, even if they are spun upon old ones.
Wanna write fantasy? Read any and all fantasy that you can. Wanna paint? Pick up a subscription to Juxtapoz magazine and go to every exhibit you can, and so forth.
However, there is another side of the coin to this thinking.
Some time ago I was showing a small collection of my photography at an art gallery in Reno, NV. I got into a discussion with the gallery owner, who was an avid photographer, concerning the sources of our inspiration to create.
He made a seemingly curious comment that unlike most artists, he doesn't keep up with other artist's work; his reasoning that he didn't want to be influenced by what's already out there.
In that moment I realized that, unconciously until that moment, I am a bit of the same way. I love writing science fiction for fun, but I've read very sci-fi few books, with the exception of a handful of classics. I love photography, but rarely study the techniques of legends past, nor am I very familar with many famous photographers or their work. Is this because I'm lazy? Or is it because I'm terrified of being too influenced? Perhaps a bit of both?
Is the fact that we're inspired by others the very beauty of inspiration itself, that we are building blocks to a richer history of invention? Or are we more cowardly, afraid to set forth in uncharted waters like we've seen some (but not seemingly enough) creators do?
It does stand to reason that the more time passes, the more we're coming up with "new" ideas that are mere rehashes of those before them. Look no further than mainstream Hollywood as an example of this....we're seeing more re-boots and re-makes than ever before.
The obvious con of this thinking though, especially in the forms of writing or film, is that you're likely to get latched onto an idea or concept that has been presented a thousand times over. Just because an idea seemingly "comes out of nowhere", hardly means it's an original idea.
So when does something come together and truly stand on its own? What is the perfect marriage of these two schools of thought to create something that at least stands a chance of being recognized as fresh or original?
To me the answer seems to come in a couple forms:
1. History and
2. Like-interests that are seperate from the specific medium or genre in question.
History is full of tales and stories that can easily be taken and set anywhere we'd like. You can spin them any way you want and because the events actually happened, a creator's premise is already within the realm of plausibility. Imagine the events of the Titanic, but set in a faroff space setting. Or perhaps the legnedary tales of Sir Ernest Shackleton could be translated to a fantasy tale of exploration and courage. As a footnote to history, the same is true for old myths, stories and legends such as old fables and fairy tales, set in times and places where they are not immediately obvious.
Concerning like-interests, I mean a collage of interests that can funnel down into one body of work. As a pure example, the Matrix combined the Wachowski brother's love of science fiction, anime and martial arts. Star Wars was based on the Hero's Journey, which Campbell pointed out as being comparative myths that boil down to an ancient template for storytelling.
So I pose this question to you, the reader -- to be aware, or to not be aware of the creative world that surrounds us?
What's your take on this and why?