What inspires artists, musicians, and other “creators”?

Conversations inspire artists. Works of love and labour do also. Living in a place with panoramic views in Maui is another.


“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Thomas Edison

Creativity requires inspiration. It takes a spark to light a fire. Where does that spark come from?

Maybe it’s more like 20% inspiration that fuels the 80% perspiration — the 80-20 rule. One idea may start a chain of events, like the idea of getting a guitarist to go on a solo concert tour by himself. Most of his time is spent practising, preparing CDs for sale, getting concert bookings, making travel arrangements, and doing the actual work of performing and traveling.

Inspiration comes from conversation with people who stimulate us, like the recent gourmet dinner in the home of a composer and his chef-turned-knitter wife. That evening in Kula led to a private viewing and a house concert the following week.

Works of love and labour inspire us to try something of our own or remind us when we were in the “flow.”

Some people move to environments that are conducive to their creativity.

Every morning we wake up to the following scene, when the sun appears above the slope of Haleakala in Maui.

Dawn in Maui, from our balcony
Dawn in Maui, from our balcony

Even from inside the apartment, we can look through the floor to ceiling glass and admire the harbour and the volcano. This is what inspires me to write my blogs. This is what inspires Robert to create the CD covers and concert posters.

View from inside the apartment looking out
View from inside the apartment looking out

Every visitor that has come to our intimate house concerts in Wailuku has marvelled at the spectacular view from the balcony. From here, we can hear the outdoor concerts at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Elton John is visiting on 24th and 25th of February 2011. Perhaps that’s an occasion to discuss what inspires artists, musicians and other creators — on our balcony.

Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center
Balcony view of Maui Arts Cultural Center

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

8 thoughts on “What inspires artists, musicians, and other “creators”?”

  1. Dear Anne,
    …And thank you for prose descriptions of Hawaii and the relationship between places, events and creativity that are themselves almost poetic. I’m sure it differs from person to person, but my most creative moments flow out of happiness rather than pain. I never feel more full of ideas or inspiration than when I’ve experienced a sort of joy or love. Most often, it’s associated with a place, a context, an event, something which I’ve discovered which brings delight. Often in Paris, because I love that city, I feel the need to put down on paper a description of the “characters” i see walking along the streets, frequenting the cafes.

    …I love to write, for its own sake, but a sense of delight truly opens the floodgates to ideas, associations, and energies which must be what we mean by the term inspiration.

  2. I’m rarely inspired by external stimuli, such as nature, books, world events, etc. Usually, an idea will just pop into my head, and I try to recreate it. I also start improvising on my guitar until I come up with a musical theme that can be developed. On other occasions, I start with a well-know theme and do my own variations/development of it. That’s how I composed “Sequentia Offertorium,” which is based on the Ricercare a 3 from Bach’s “A Musical Offering.” My current composition also uses that format: I’m trying to write a guitar sonata based on the famous “Dies Irae” theme. So far, I have just written down the melody! 🙂

    1. Thanks, John. There was a time when I could not stop composing. I’d stop everything if I felt a tune was in the making. I wonder if the flow of creativity is unstoppable, a momentum that overtakes and overwhelms you. And creativity cannot be forced either, such as when I was studying composition and we were required to compose.

  3. Dear Anne and Robert,
    It is always a pleasure to read your blogs and follow your musicians’ lives while you are on tour at the other end of the globe, don’t we live in a fantastic time, with all this technology making this possible! But yes, there is nothing as impressive as Nature. Sometimes you feel part of it sometimes you admire it, mixed with vague feelings of fear: the idyll of a bucolic landscape with a running brook, or a glacier when the silence is broken by the distant sound of blocks of ice falling from the mountain peaks…

    The beauty of Nature would not inspire me right away to write music; on the contrary, the sight of a sunrise over a volcano, like you see it from your window, would be a strong invitation to climb the slopes in stead of sitting down at my desk… But a postponed effect may happen if there is a link with the inspiring place. Strolling through the woods Beethoven must have heard the distant call of the cuckoo and he must have been surprised one day by a thunderstorm during his walks. He was able to transform his outdoor impressions into the beauty and power of his Pastoral Symphony. But I wonder if he really noted down so often musical motives and phrases in a notebook during his walks. Maybe he did, but he could have done this afterwards at home too. Inspiration: is it an experience you had, inviting you to write, paint or whatever? Or is it the first spark coming from inside yourself, lighting the fire of artistic creation?

    I feel inspired in different ways. The first form is pure and abstract musical inspiration. It has different degrees: the highest and most precious form of inspiration for me is motivic and thematic invention for a new work, when embryonic musical ideas emerge out of nothing. I shape them further, listening inwardly to discover the right proportions and to what extent a musical idea will enable larger forms. Freedom is 100% at this almost unconscious stage of creation. Inventing new ideas in relation to existing material (like a second theme for a sonata) is already a more conscious process, so is making variations and combinations and designing the overall form of the piece, with its narrative structure, its instrumentation etc. Although you are applying for 80% learned knowledge, rules and models, there is still 20% originality possible. Sometimes the Muses give you another unexpected present in this stage. These are the moments of “flow”.

    The second form of inspiration is the extramusical stimulus. It can be the recollection of climbing the top of an impressive volcano, but also a poem that strikes you for its content and beauty of expression. It can also be a story, a movie, or you can be moved by something happening in your personal life, e.g. falling in love… I personally like very much being inspired by poems with strong emotional content and original images, as they invite you to transform them into music. Is a poem not like an erring soul seeking embodiment in music? For me it is, without neglecting the intrinsic qualities of the poem itself. After all, it will be the text of your song.

    The picture of the volcano reminded me of a composition I would like to write on a poem by Florbela Espanca, a great early XX century Portuguese poetess. It is called Vulcões (Volcanoes) or No gelo da indifferênça occultam-se as paixões (Under the ice of indifference, burning passions are hidden). The sonnet starts with the image of a volcano, covered with snow and ice, while inside the boiling lava is already seeking a way out. Florbela compares it to the heart of a woman who is still hiding her love. Such a beautiful poem and my own recollections of somebody like her and the mighty sight of the Etna crater I once visited will all inspire this future work. I hope I will write the work in 2011. In my mind’s eye it must be an orchestral work of large proportions. Nobody is waiting for it, so I still have time. But you know what? I am curious myself what the work will be like. I may just compose it to satisfy my curiosity in my own inspiration!

    A third way inspiration comes to you is indeed being in an inspiring environment. The sight of a mountainous landscape, a stay in a sleepy Tuscan village, or the excitement of a city like Amsterdam with so much culture… All this can be so inspiring! Although it helps having free time and being in such nice places, music sometimes emerges unbidden. And then I even don’t like to have inspiration! When I am too busy with correcting exams or filling out tax forms before a soon-coming deadline I sometimes wish myself a “writer’s block” . But strangely enough the moments of lacking inspiration always occur when I have all time for myself…

    Thanks Anne for your continuous flow of interesting blogs, full of ideas!

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful words, Rolf! I feel like I’m the cultural ambassador for the Netherlands here. I praise the Dutch for their multi-lingual capabilities and high level of cultural appreciation and education. You are a fine example of that!

  4. Dear Anne & Robert,
    To me composing is an almost exclusively cerebral activity, say, just like math, an appearance of math. I can see math as very aesthetic.

    Music, to me, is the most miraculous phenomenon in universe. I have been busy with music all my life, but still am amazed how cerebral composing can lead to deep emotional experiences.

    I tend to agree with the generally accepted concept that “tragedy” is the most inspiring form of appearance in aesthetics – that has been true through the ages, as from Plato through Malraux.

    If you allow me I’ll leave two examples:
    My Élégie for Flute Solo:
    [audio src="http://www.ganuenta.com/comp/Elegie.mp3" /]
    I wrote it entirely at my desk, on the computer.

    The second is a fugue on a given melody from the Renaissance, by Loys Bourgeois:
    http://www.ganuenta.com/comp/GP-004-ChEns.mp3 , for flute, English horn and bassoon.

    If composing is hearing (and memorizing, and writing down) music ahead, is that why so much music is so predicable?

    1. Dear Jan, thank you for sharing your thoughts and music. I have been collecting elegies for piano solo or piano plus other instruments work for sometime, with the intention of doing a CD and related text. Please also visit the latest blog — CALL FOR SCORES — multi-hand piano duets (one piano) for a sightreading competition in San Francisco. Look forward to meeting you in person when I’m back in the Netherlands. Kind regards, Anne

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