What Inspires Art and Why?

One of my absolute favorite filmmakers, and a great inspiration to me, is Andrei Tarkovsky. For me, he created film with a kind of spirituality unlike anything else I’ve seen. His view on film is an almost complete departure from what we are accustomed to. Although, many of the modern films I enjoy have distinct elements from Tarkovsky’s films or at least it seems that way to me. Long takes, the silence, and visual symbolism are all elements of his films. However, moving beyond objectively looking at art we must see where it comes from and why. Andrei Tarkovsky has a quote that comes to mind that I will present here. I believe it reflects what inspires all artists of any medium. Whether you are a painter, a photographer, a filmmaker, a writer etc. It is as follows:

“An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill designed world”

  • Andrei Tarkovsky

In my opinion this quote holds great importance to any artist. We do what we do because we have to. I know, for me as a filmmaker and a writer, I create to understand the world around me. I make my films and I write my stories to deconstruct the world and the society I live in. Art serves a very particular role in our lives. If the world was perfect, as Tarkovsky brilliantly describes, what would be the use of art? If the world was perfect we would not need an escape from reality. We wouldn’t need to deconstruct the world around us to understand it better. It would already suffice.

The world is not perfect. I am sure we can all agree on that. Therefore we need some outlet to help us understand or at least grasp why the world is the way it is. All we have to do is look around ourselves to be inspired. It’s the imperfections in the world that can inspire great things.

Think of how many atrocities have inspired countless works of art. Take for example my favorite historical time period: The Great War. World War One inspired many great works of art. Novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger and countless poems, films, and paintings. Another novel that comes to mind is Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo recounts a man so badly injured by the war that he can’t communicate and therefore is trapped inside his own mind. What do these pieces have in common other than the fact they were inspired by World War One? They were all created by the people who partook in one of the most horrific conflicts in human history as a way to understand and reflect on what had happened.

I remember taking an acting class in college and our professor talked about how beautiful art can come from dark places. All artists have something in their life that propels them forward. In that same class we talked about how the same is true in nature. Think of a diamond. It’s beautiful. How was it created though? Where did it come from? It is created from high temperatures and heavy pressure from the earth. A more visual example is childbirth. Think about it. There is blood, there is screaming, and large amounts of excruciating pain. It sounds like a nightmarish scene from a horror story. The end result, however, is the most beautiful thing that can exist: life. The examples are endlessly found in nature and also found in art. Sometimes it’s the most disturbing reality that creates the most beautiful art. The most tortured artist can create the most loving artwork. While this last part may not always be the case, (the idea of the tortured artist is up for debate), it is definitely a reality for some.

We don’t need to look at war to see how artists are inspired, however. Look at a simple love song, for example. The song is not necessarily inspired by a person the composer is head over heels for. Rather, it is inspired by a feeling the artist has. A feeling of longing or of love, perhaps even lust. The feeling within the artist has inspired the work which many people will listen to and hopefully be able to relate to a similar feeling. Perhaps the person hearing this tune will be inspired to write their own and the cycle continues.

What is the purpose of art? Why be inspired? Why create? In my opinion, and I touched on it earlier in this article, the reason is twofold. First, I am inspired by the imperfections in my life and the world around me. I have an impulse when I am inspired that forces me to create. It is in my blood to do so. I must follow this impulse and not just let it wallow within me to be forgotten. I need to understand what’s going on in reality and by creating some piece of artwork, whatever it may be, I am able to see the final product and take a step back and observe it. When a project is very personal it allows me to truly look at myself or at a specific situation and digest it and dissect it to create the final product. In the process I gain some insight and some understanding.

In addition, the second part would be because it is cathartic. Creating art is a release. Take certain thoughts and ideas and create a piece of artwork with them and get them out of your system. If you’re feeling down and depressed, create something to help eliminate those thoughts of sadness. I am sure many artists create to feel better. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Perhaps it helps the viewer rather than the artist.

Art has the ability to make this world and society we live in more bearable. Art has the ability to bring people together and it has the ability to heal. I am reminded of how Alzheimer’s patients are sometimes treated by having them listen to music. It helps them. It truly does.

We must continue to be inspired and for artists this is a part of our lives. It happens and will continue to happen because it is in our blood. Sometimes that is all the explanation there is. Those who view the art will know the reason it exists. It exists to help us live and to us help us cope. It exists to make this world a better place even if only momentarily.


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