beauty’s where you find it: the search for inspiration in uninspired times

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Here’s a puzzle for a cold and gray Friday: where the hell does inspiration come from? I call it a puzzle because at first glance, 2016 isn’t exactly a hotbed of inspiring moments and benchmark artistic achievements. When a reality star is our new president-elect and the most talked about musical performance of the year came from Corey Feldman, you wouldn’t be totally wrong for calling modern culture a trash heap of uninspired garbage. Still, as a creative person and a writer, inspiration is vital and my mission of seeking it out is never-ending.

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Modigliani. That’s always a good place for me to start. In specific, this particular Modigliani shown here which currently lives at the Norton Simon in Pasadena(my favorite Los Angeles museum and highly underrated in my expert museum trolling opinion.) This forlorn pregnant woman was Modigliani’s wife whom he painted a zillion times.  I remember staring at this photo back in 2010 with this guy I was dating (who later became my husband) and reading the little description printed next to it. It told the story of this woman, Jeanne Hébuterne, and how she jumped out a window killing herself and her unborn child the day after Modigliani died. I remember tearing up looking at this stunning woman and her pregnant belly. A painting nearly 100 years old absolutely devastated me with its profound beauty and tragic tale behind it. This moment in Pasadena with the guy I would marry has become my touchstone for inspiration. That creative people wield this type of power and potential to utterly rock the emotional core of those who come in contact with their work, suddenly hit me on that day. Sure, I’d been writing and making stuff my whole life, but my Modigliani moment cemented that the fight to stay inspired and keep pushing myself as a creative person was indeed a noble one.

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Next, the journey takes me to the present. Sure, finding inspiration among classic art is one thing but can it be found in current culture? My endless Twitter pop culture griping aside, I’m going to say yes. I am what you would call a mass consumer when it comes to pop culture. It’s a buffet and I load my plate up with whatever I can grab. Some of it is delicious. A lot of it isn’t great. But my theory is at least I’ve tried it. I’ve always been obsessed with “the new” which I’m sure at one point was born out of a desire to look cool in front of kids who I wanted to like me. Today, however, this obsession to see what’s next and what’s happening in the moment I think serves me pretty well as a creative person.

Honestly? I’ll watch, read or listen to anything that looks interesting. Like the other day, we took in a double feature in honor of my birthday. My perfect birthday at age 10 was going to the movies and eating cake. Funny how little has changed. We saw Moonlight (which I,like the rest of the world, loved) and we saw Arrival. The latter, a seemingly standard aliens and humans film was the one that really surprised me, however. The emotional content, the questions it asks about regret and the idea of being given the gift of language totally blew my brain open.  I found myself sobbing and feeling exhilarated when we left the theater. Another Modigliani moment but this time starring Amy Adams and a small popcorn. It caught me off guard and shattered my expectations, which is what most good art should do. Not to discount Moonlight at all, mind you. It’s a beautiful film which spurned a series of conversations over the next couple of days between me and Michael, another sign of good art. With a ton of writing to get done over the following days, this temporary escape to CinemaLand gave me much-needed fuel.

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Usually this quest takes me back to the here and now. The things around me: plants, animals, murals, art, weird neighbors, eavesdropped conversations, moments of tenderness amongst strangers –all of it gets shoved in the inspiration file. I can’t exactly get tickets in advance for this kind of stuff so the trick is to keep my eyes open and be alert. It does help that I’m an avid walker  and more often than not just stroll into these kinds of situations. Locations like the aforementioned museums or bookstores and libraries are more prone to be gateways to inspiration too.

Social media and the internet at large can be a never-ending fountain of inspiration too.  But it’s a double-edged sword as I’ve found just as much stuff online to depress the shit out of me as I have to inspire me. Thankfully, my online tribe is filled with some badass creative types. I recently turned over the question, “What’s currently inspiring you?” to these folks and the answers I got were, well inspiring. Everything from Little Women and Riot Girl LPs to animals and children to links to videos to discussions on how feelings like anger or depression might be the best sources of creativity of all. In crowdsourcing this question, I tapped into another source of inspiration: other artists and writers trudging through the work just like I am. These people I know and the million I don’t know are on the same quest as me and there’s something comforting about that.

This means I’m not alone and that I should keep going. I should keep watching, keep reading and keep saying yes.  Because in the words of Working Girl,“I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.”

But now it’s your turn: Are you one of those creative types who bubbles over all day long with inspiration always at your fingertips? Does inspiration soak in slowly through a steady stream of exposure to films, art, music and books? Or do you look back into the past or maybe even stay there until you’ve found what you’re looking for? Tell me about in the comments section and feel free to include videos, links and photos.

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2 comments

  1. Mark David Goodson · December 3

    Great topic Sean. I like you would stay inspired at all times if possible.

    The most frustrated circumstance I find myself in is having inspiration without the means to act on it, stuck in a social or professional setting.

    I’ll tell you what though, the #recoveryposse has made me more inspired as a writer than I Joubert I could ever be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • seanpaulmahoney · December 3

      Agreed, Mark. Seeing you guys put yourselves out there and do your thing really inspires me to do the same. I don’t think creativity can live on it’s own without support from other creative types. So I’m grateful for you, Paul, Dan, Claire, Chris and all of the others who keep making stuff!

      Like

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