My title is also the title of a classic Christmas film, starring Jimmy Stewart, where a suicidal man gets another kick at the can, thanks to a bumbling angel named, what else, Clarence.
You may love It’s a Wonderful Life or hate it, but many artists use that state of wonder that George Bailey achieved in the movie to make art.
Robert Henri, famous for The Art Spirit, employed “wonder” as a teaching strategy:
The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.
It is harder to see than it is to express. The whole value of art rests in the artist’s ability to see well into what is before him.
Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.
Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you.
Henri obviously believed that insight was necessary for the production of “authentic” art. If you follow your insights, you will make art that is original, because your way of seeing and expressing what you see is unique. In fact, Henri also said:
Do not worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to.
Many other artists talk about that sense of communicating their inner essence through their work. Watercolor painter Keiko Tanabe puts it this way:
When I am true to my inspiration, my brushstrokes sometimes surprise me by exposing something of my inner spirit I was not even aware of.
Ruth Rhoten paints under the influence of a powerful connection:
As I paint, I feel waves of energy flowing through me,
like the currents of the ocean.
My hands are guided by the creative force.
Lucien Freud relies on strong emotion to communicate:
The painter makes real to others his innermost feelings about all that he cares for. A secret becomes known to everyone who views the picture through the intensity with which it is felt.
Here is Sir Cecil Beaton‘s advice:
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against… the slaves of the ordinary.
John Cage has a more practical attitude about inspiration:
People who are not artists often feel that artists are inspired. But if you work at your art you don’t have time to be inspired.
Andy Warhol considered the artist to be just another worker:
Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.
William Faulkner gave no credit to inspiraion:
I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is; I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it.
Henri Matisse didn’t discount inspiration, but he didn’t ‘waste’ time looking for it, either:
Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.
When it comes to belief about inspiration, and whether or not your spirit or essence becomes part of your work, I suspect there is no definitive answer. I prefer an “and” approach to life, rather than “either/or.” You can have your opinion or outlook, and I have mine. We can co-exist . . . we already do! People belong to political parties, have favorite teams and specific taste in music. They have their own style of dressing, talking, and relating to people. Diversity is good. In fact, it is quite wonderful. There’s that word again!
You stay true
to your path as
I do to mine.
But if you find yourself
dancing past my door, please,
I cannot tell you
what delight it would give me to
share the gift of
© Carol Wiebe