Inspiration – Unbidden Images

Inspiration arrives in the most improbably ways, and for me, usually unbidden. Over the years it has even evolved in order to keep pace with technology.

For a number of years I attended a study at a church decorated with lovely banners. I appreciated their visual beauty each week. Occasionally, I would walk closer, gingerly inspect how they were constructed, and think to myself Icould do that. And one day I did. A vase featuring lilies, stashed away in the staff galley at the counseling center where I worked, was the inspiration for the first banner I made for Easter 1989. It was an image that tugged at my imagination until I finally surrendered to it and made it visible.

In that season of my life, inspiration was over-the-top hyperactive; I felt like my mind was the landing pattern at LAX. There was an urgency about getting the latest creation off my design table so I could land the next one.  Everywhere I went, and everything I encountered, was a possible source of inspiration. I used to joke that shopping was a spiritual experience; when I was out and about I never knew when something I’d seen out of the corner of my eye would be something I would have to come back and attend to more closely. I learned to pay attention to the unbidden ideas and images that arrived like Kodak moments in my imagination.

Inspirations still arrive as snapshots, but these days the Spirit’s gotten a bit more high tech and I’m more aware of inspiration coming to me like a computer hyperlink – those underscored highlighted words that make the home page jump open up when you click them. An art buddy recently told me that a gallery up in Los Alamos was putting out an artist’s call for a show entitled “Circles & Sticks.”  Those casual words totally hyperlinked me as if they’d jumped off the page, chuckled me under the chin and said, “Honey, pay attention!” I knew that something had come to me unbidden and it wasn’t long before I knew what the image was supposed to look like. What I didn’t anticipate was the very process of creating the image would be an improbable source of healing.

Concurrently, I was wrestling with what to do about a relational concern with someone important to me. I was agitated and undecided; it seemed the only helpful thing at the moment would be to paint my way through it.  So I began “Circles & Sticks” using unconventional art materials – sticks of all sorts to create circles, dots and “sticky” lines. I even pruned a heavenly bamboo shoot into a three-foot long painting stick  and commandeered several sets of chopsticks from the kitchen. A yardstick, tapestry needles, the stubby stick of a carpenter’s pencil, and the sharp point of a compass all pointed toward the sticks theme. I laid gessoed red rosin paper on the studio floor and painted at arm’s length. By the end of the afternoon my agitation and indecision were gone and I felt at peace.

What has been of great curiosity to me is that there is absolutely no obvious metaphor between what I painted and the issue that was agitating me. I didn’t think about the one while creating the other. Yet the creating of one resolved the other. I’m still sitting thoughtfully with that and simply saying, “Hummm?”

How does inspiration come to you? Has that experience changed over time? Have you ever created something and had it resolve something else in you life?

As always, I appreciate your comments.

PS – The image above is a detail of “Circles & Sticks”


3 comments to Inspiration – Unbidden Images

  • Deanna J Bowling

    I don’t know how or if this relates to “Circles and Sticks”, but it’s what came to mind.

    Yesterday we were studying about Jesus’ curcifixion in Bible study, and one of the pieces of scripture we looked at was the one devoted to the rags that Jesus had been wearing when He was on the Cross. How they were piled at the bottom of the Cross, and how His torturers had drawn lots for them. How pieces of material took on a great signifigance, to the point that they were seen to be as trophies of a sort for those who had over come Jesus.

    Those pieces of rags had nothing to do with who Jesus was, they were just pieces of a garment that He happened to be wearing that day. But the need of those who had mocked and killed the embodiment of a relationship that they couldn’t sort out, led to their taking those rags as trophies of their triumph.

    I was reading a book yesterday by Elizabeth Gilbert. She wrote a book about lobster fishing and a culture that had developed around the villages where the lobstering men lived and worked. One of the things that the main character in the book, Ruth Thomas, wound up doing was assisting a man who wanted to build a museum that would depict the culture. This museum, this building that would wind up housing a collection of old discarded things (or as Lynne wrote in her piece, circles and sticks), would come to personify the relationships to the sea that those around her had developed. Though they wouldn’t speak to the relationships themselves but more the supports, the props, of the industry that pulled them together into relationship.

    One of my gifts is to make order out of disorder. I currently find myself yearning for cooler weather so that I can get comfortably out in the yard again, and pull weeds and manicure the yard. Now those who may, or most likely won’t take notice of, a yard without weeds, won’t know that it wasn’t the fact that the weeds had been pulled that was the main effort, but that the pulling of the weeds was my creative way of working on the “weeds” in my mind, and in the long run, will have helped me clean up a relationship that I am currently struggling with.

  • Inspiraton usually comes to me through lots of study and then a time to let it simmer. Creativity at this point in my life has to do with writing and sermons and the act of writing helps tremendously. I’ve learned over time that once I’ve studied and reflected I just need to start writing and not worry too much where it will all end. Also, let the sermon or article write itself and then go back to review. I always make changes but the basic inspiration rarely changes.

  • Matt Hoyt

    I find inspiration most often through quiet reflection. I love to learn and am curious and busy a lot of the time, but when I am quiet and thoughtful is most often when things come to me or I see the world in a new way. I think being still allows me to hear the Holy Spirit better. I think I probably also do some “simmering,” as Tom said, during those times as well that is part of the process.

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