Artists often get asked where their inspirations come from. I think what people actually want to know, those who don't feel like they have a creative bone in their bodies, is how an artist's mind works. Artists have a difficult time explaining this, or at least I do, because they can't imagine that everyone's mind doesn't work the way theirs do, and because so much of the creative process seems to come out of nowhere. But according to a study of 91 exceptional innovators (as cited in the book Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk), creative people depend on flexibility to an unusual degree, and their personalities show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. Creative people simply embrace contradictory extremes whereas everyone else learns to develop one or the other (the example given was one might grow up cultivating the aggressive competitive side while disdaining or repressing the nurturing cooperative side). I liken this to people who see everything as black and white while others of us can't be that hard-lined, seeing many shades of grey to every subject. No wonder I have so much trouble filling out those multiple choice question surveys - I literally can't choose one answer over another at times. Creative minds really do work differently. This quotation from Alfonso Montuori says it best:
"Creative people alternate order and disorder, simplicity and complexity, sanity and craziness in an ongoing process."
Me to a "T".
As for those ideas that seem to come out of nowhere (and I've mentioned many times when that has happened to me), another section of Powers of Two noted that in interview after interview, creative people recounted that in their "aha" moments, an image or a line or an idea presents itself, coming not from the "I" but as though from a distant source. "The Muses" are often given credit, but the author sees this as the person unwittingly having a dialogue with his or herself; but he also notes that these "out of nowhere" moments are generally trusted more, given more credence or said to produce more superior results than ideas that are consciously created. Creative people seem to have a difficult time taking credit for their best work. Yes, yes yes, it's me again.
Not long ago, I had one of these "out of nowhere" moments that often happens on my walks and that might be a good example of how my mind sometimes works when an idea is sparked. My mind wanders a great deal on my walks, as do my eyes. I'm not looking for anything in particular but every now and then, my eye will stop on something that strikes me as unusual. This particular day, it was this group of tall birches standing at the edge of a wooded area at the back end of a recently cleared lot. I'd walked by this spot dozens of times and I'm sure had seen these trees before, but that day my mind decided to note that it is actually a little unusual to see a close grouping of this mature tree. So I paused to take it in.
My eye traveled from the tight spacing at ground level up into the branches far above the ground, where the trunks began to go their own way, bending this way and that, and putting some space between each other. Suddenly the term "community" popped into my head (out of nowhere - yes). Now why did I think that? Well, this image reminded me of what true community is - I tight-knit group with certain commonalities but whose individual members also have differences and varied interests. There's support but not a demand for uniformity, it grows together but also grows apart. Would anyone else get that if I captured this scene in fabric? Would the title of "Community" be enough to get the idea across? After reading Powers of Two, I'm not totally sure that it would say that to most people. They might be wondering how in the heck my mind was working to come up with that. But other artists or creative types - they might get it. They might see beyond the obvious to the symbolism that presented itself to me on that one day. Or the image might say something different to them. But they would surely see more than trees if given a moment of contemplation.
Does any of this ring true for you? How does your mind work?