Monday, December 27, 2010

Inspiration Is For Amateurs

According to American painter and photographer, Chuck Close, "Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work."

Close's statement seems to reject the notion that a person (other than the artist himself or herself) or a thing or an activity is what inspires art. It also also seems to reject the divine as the source of inspiration.

If all that is true, where does inspiration come from? Is everything that might (seem to) inspire us already within us, somehow embedded in our psyches? Are we born with the seeds of inspiration already a part of us? Is basic artistic talent another way of explaining off what some might label inspiration? Are we simply waiting for the seeds of inspiration to germinate and bloom? Do we really just need to "get to work" and results that seem "inspired" will follow? Is inspiration something more easily recognized in the past tense? In other words, after creating something that seems "inspired," is it only then that we can recognize something external (from us) that might be responsible for a seemingly "inspired" creation? Or, is inspiration just a vague way of describing how we are or were moved to create something that already resonates in ourselves and then, through the "inspired creation," resonates in others?

Sorry. That was a lot of questions. And I'll bet each one could take a book to answer. If not a book, certainly much could be written in response to each of those questions. In fact, a lot has already been written which addresses those questions and more: It's called "philosophy."

Perhaps what Close meant was that artists (which include photographers) should simply get to work, get busy, get out and do it and, after it's accomplished, then worry or ponder whether whatever was created was inspired or simply happened as result of the effort?

A well-known phrase amongst photographers is the to-the-point adage, "Shut up and shoot." I think it closely resembles what Close was saying.

The pretty girl at the top is Tegan. She definitely inspires me! But more towards ideas and thoughts that are less of an artistic nature and more of a human nature. Just sayin.


John said...

I disagree with your interpretation of his statement.
I think he was saying that amateurs have the luxury of awaiting inspiration. Professionals have to produce, whether their muse is active or not.
I'm just sayin'... :)

jimmyd said...


I totally agree. Generally, pros don't have the "luxury" of seeking or awaiting inspiration. They either have to produce on cue (if they're being hired or commissioned) or, if there's no one else involved, they know the best way to go about it is to just get at it. I'm sure there's some artists who would disagree. I was just exploring his statement from some other perspectives.

Gene said...


I think it goes even deeper than that, on the level of personal philosophy, but also on the level of personal professionalism.

Chuck Close is a personally driven artist - generally one who inspires others, not one who seeks inspiration. He chose his own path, his own tools, his own style and is one of the few who have a self determined path to follow. And one who became very, very good with the tools he chose.

But, not only was he personally gifted with talent, he learned his trade, he was trained, and he studied and became extremely proficient in both photography and art - BEFORE he chose the professional artistic path he would follow.

Most true professionals, especially technically expert professionals often have the same view of inspiration that Close has, just get to work. Why, because they already posses the finely honed technical and creative skills that allow them to just get it done, and for many, they never "look" or "seek" the source of their own personal inspiration. Once the idea, the concept, the view or the need for something to be done is there - it's there and it's only moving forward they are concerned with. Focus is forward to completion, not, backwards to the genesis.
-- This forward view continues during the project to the point, that if you were to take an original concept or story board from discussion with the pro, when a project, a painting, a picture was originally conceived and view it as a measuring stick for the final product. No matter how "different" the final version is from the original concept - the pro, only sees it as the same. The same with improvement; the same with changes; the same, the same with revisions; the same in a different media...because they never look back.

Few, very few of the professionals I have met with these traits can tell you or explain to you "where" they get the "idea" from in the first place. They are so focused on what they are doing, they often do not seek the genesis of their concepts, the source of their creativity, or the hand that winds the clock. They, just like the clock, are always in motion once the clock is wound. Their personal inspiration is so far behind them, that often, they themselves can not tell you what that inspiration was...but, they know this is what they have always desired or been destined to do, and what they "just do".

But for any level of professionalism, knowledge, experience or capability there is one resounding truth to Close's statement - what ever it is, what ever you are doing -- just get to work. Because you will never get any better than you are right now - if you don't just do it. Get out, make mistakes, learn, seek and search, educate yourself in areas you are not comfortable to find your capabilities...but in all of this.. just do it.

Because in reality, even if amateurs are the only ones with the luxury (of time) to await inspiration...if they have not become extremely technically competent and capable... that inspiration will just be wasted on another frustrated wannabe.

As with the 100th of a second discussion a few weeks ago... if you sit there, waiting for inspiration, you'll still be sitting there once the action and life have passed you by.

So, just do it.

jimmyd said...


You nailed it. Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

I love being inspired by others.

For those of us that lack the "creativity" gene, inspiration is an essential part of our thought process. We see something in others work and try to replicate it with our own inhibited spin.

Once we lesser beings have been inspired, then we get to work, make mistakes and grow.

Rick D.

Juergen Buergin said...

love this discussion. :-) Tegan is really inspiring! ;-) I sometimes use the word 'inspiration' too, but I'm definitely convinced, that there is some inspiration that comes from any unknown source like outer space, depth of 'heart' and 'soul' or so. No such mistery, esoteric, religious things to my opinion. When I use the term I use it as a metaphor! And it means something like: I'm working very hard to find a fast and convincing solution for a good photo, to use the light in a new situation with best impact as possible. So, ok: Let me feel like a magician somehow - one who has learned all the tricks by heart!
Inspired regards from Berlin,

jimmyd said...


"When I use the term I use it as a metaphor! And it means something like: I'm working very hard to find a fast and convincing solution for a good photo."

I like that!!!