Is inspiration something like this?
or just this?
What is my problem, you may innocently ask? Inspiration is a great word, especially for artists of all kinds, I mean, what are they going to say instead, when this word sums up their creative err…inspiration perfectly?
I know a lady who gets wound up by the incorrect use of certain words, the misuse of certain words, and the overuse of certain words, which she has to suffer hearing on the TV, in the media or even in her reading. And once she has drawn your attention to them, and once you’re over your giggles, you discover, through her pointing it out, what you unconsciously absorbed now becomes consciously monitored – and then you have to take a stance on it. Is it okay with you or not? Well, I have strong feelings over the misuse and the overuse of the word inspiration, or inspired, or inspire, but before I explain further, let’s look at what the various definitions and origins of the word are:
Here are three definitions from Merriam-Webster on ‘inspiration’
1. The action or power of moving the intellect or emotions
2.The act of influencing or suggesting opinions
3. A divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation
The Cambridge Dictionary on ‘inspiration’
1.Someone or something that gives you ideas for doing something… Eg The golden autumn light provided the inspiration for the painting and He went to church perhaps seeking divine inspiration.
2.A sudden good idea…Eg Helen had one of her flashes of inspiration and The Malvern Hills have provided inspiration for many artists.
And on the etymological origins of ‘inspiration’, from etymonline.com
1300, ‘‘immediate influence of God or a god,” especially that under which the holy books were written. From Old French inspiracion “inhaling, breathing in; inspiration” (13c.), from Late Latin inspirationem (nominative inspiratio), noun of action from past participle stem of Latin inspirare “blow into, breathe upon,” figuratively “inspire, excite, inflame,” from in- “in” + spirare “to breathe”
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. [Genesis ii.7]
The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence.
And going back to Merriam-Webster on’ inspire’
To influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration; to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on.
So what’s my problem?
Well, you can see from looking at these descriptions that meaning swings from inspiration being as simple as having a good idea, a kind of realisation, or being moved by something – which I’m okay with in moderation…right through to more complex divine or supernatural influences, with some incredible quality, such as genius*, being breathed into someone by a powerful deity…which I’m not okay with for its overuse and misuse.
I feel artists of all kinds overuse this word, especially in mission statements when describing what they are stimulated by or moved by in order to create. It’s used so widely in the art world, that it’s become the norm, if artists don’t use it, it appears remiss or somehow lacking, and I’ll freely admit I’ve used it myself in the past. But for me, in this ‘higher’ sense of the word, it’s implying that exalted position of having being touched by a supernatural muse or some kind of divinity…when I feel art of all kinds is more about talent and skill. It comes across to me as too grandiose, too elevating, too esoteric, too much putting art on a pedestal, and looking at the derivations of the word I can see why these associations linger – all that breathing of life and divine influence have much to answer for.
But it’s this more extreme meaning that seems to have taken over whenever it is used outside the art world as well as inside it, and then it becomes a tad farcical in its increasing use on TV and in the media, cringe-inducing questions and comments by presenters on many innocuous and commonplace activities…suddenly are subject to inspiration:
What inspired you to decide to keep chickens? (having freshly laid eggs, perhaps, and to provide inspiration to make omelettes)
I can see the hills here are excellent for visitors to walk in. Is that what inspired you to repair the crumbling footpaths?
Inspired by the wishes of the local village community, the post office was able to remain open.
Next it will be:
What inspired you to mow the lawn?
What inspired you to decorate your Christmas tree?
Okay, I’m getting carried away, sarcasm doesn’t win arguments (but it’s fun sometimes ;>))
So to finish, I don’t like the word ‘inspiration’ having become trite and commonplace and I don’t like it being used by artists everywhere to describe their art practice in an elevated manner – and yes, that’s a huge paradox which I can’t solve for myself. But I think I’d simply be happy with just a few other ways of getting the same meaning across. Can’t we have a bit of variety, instead of the same old, same old. Instead of ‘inspired by’ – how about ‘stimulated, enthused, moved, motivated, urged, impassioned by’ instead?
Rant now over. *But watch out, there will be another one coming up on ’genius’*.
Are there any words being used out there that annoy you?
(images courtesy of pixabay)