…and don’t just listen to all those other people trying to tell you what’s hip. That’s what Justin Maller reckons
I do a lot of interviews. I don’t say this to be smug. Anyone who does a lot of interviews will tell you: the novelty of talking about yourself wears off really quickly. The first one is kind of a blast. The second one, you start to find form with your answers, have a little fun with it. Third one, you’ve got your replies down cold. After that the thrill factor falls off pretty quickly. I still do them because not only are they great exposure, but every once in a while you’ll have someone ask you a great set of questions. Sometimes the questions are so good you’ll end up with a deeper understanding of your own work. It’s rare, but it happens.
The one query that doesn’t offer insight is the dreaded: “What is your inspiration?” It’s the most common question in the book – the first go-to of anyone asking a creative a question. The answer offers no real insight (because honestly, do you really care if I listen to Cut Copy when I’m working?) but more importantly it leads aspiring and developing artists down the wrong track. It sends people out hunting for their own inspiration, collecting and furiously blogging their findings, as if somehow creating a curated archive of brilliance will translate to creating a comparable quality portfolio.
This hoarding mindset is extending past the internet. Beyond the proliferation of blog sites, Tumblr pages and hype machines there are the Munny toys, the limited edition T-shirts, the $70 hip ‘fashion’ magazines with more ads than content. Ostensibly, these things are just nicely made artefacts, existing to brighten an otherwise dreary world. But the reality is that for the most part they’ve been fetishised; sold off as collectable visual soft porn.
I’m not going to try and tell you what inspiration is and isn’t, or what forms it comes in. The reality is that ideas can come from anywhere. Who am I to say that stacking your work area with expensive toys, rare magazines, imported ergonomic chairs and clever posters shouldn’t inspire you? Personally speaking I’ve always found that whenever I’m ready and willing to make something, an idea will be waiting for me. It doesn’t matter to me if I’m sitting on a plane, in a hotel room, on the beach or in my living room in New York (where I usually work from the kitchen table in the most uncomfortable chair known to man) – ideas in their purest form are always there as soon as I am ready to work.
Do you know why they’re always there? Here’s the cold hard fact: inspiration doesn’t really count for shit.
If you want to be a better artist, make better work. Become a better professional. Only two things matter: imagination and motivation. Both of these things come from within. It’s within our control to embrace both of them. It’s good to feed your imagination with the things that inspire you from time to time, but ultimately imagination needs to be exercised more than it needs to be nurtured. If you’re motivated enough to simply sit down and work, whether it be by commercial success, artistic improvement or simply the desire for creative outlet, your imagination will kick in (regardless of whether you have read Them-Thangs or not).
Becoming a better artist comes from putting in thousands of hours of work. Unpaid, unappreciated, unappealing work. It comes from staying up until 2am experimenting in Photoshop and then dragging your ass out of bed at 7am to go to your day job. It comes from making awful work, bad decisions and silly mistakes. It comes from registering dumb folio names and making worse websites. It comes from learning from all of these things. And believe it or not, this is the best way. By disconnecting from these ‘inspiration’ crutches and ceasing the endless hunt for ocular fodder, you will free your time and free your mind to discover your own unique artistic voice through your own unique artistic process. Don’t worry so much about other people and their work.
Put less stock in the output of ‘tastemakers’. Read fewer opinion blogs from people like me. Start making stuff. Start making your mistakes, the same way I made mine; and I made more than my fair share. Find your motivation and free your imagination.