State of the Arts
Finding inspiration in the Northwoods
By Melinda Childs
Development Director, ArtStart
My summer has been filled with my work at ArtStart, time on the lake, and as much camping as I can fit into my schedule. Camping trips for my family are a time when my kids can run wild and I can sit by a fire with a G&T. My husband on the other hand, never stops working. As an artist who is inspired by our natural environment his senses are always on high alert—he can sniff out a foggy landscape ripe for a painting a mile away! He has his camera with him wherever he goes and often my kids and I find ourselves waiting in the car at a rest stop while he photographs a drizzly beach on Lake Superior. The kids may be entertained by it all or they may be screaming in the back seat. I don’t complain (too much) since I know this is a source of inspiration for his work. Beyond that, he is teaching our kids, by example, what it means to look at the world around us for inspiration.
Inspiration as defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”
I have been thinking about this word a lot lately in various contexts. We all know that inspiration is part of the artistic process. It is endlessly fascinating to me to learn the source of inspiration for the artists who exhibit their work at ArtStart. Often it gives me a new understanding of the work. Many times I am surprised by what inspires these artists, and sometimes I have to make a pretty big leap to make connections between the finished artwork and the original spark of the idea that inspired it. Other times, what I assume to be inspiration is only the tip of the iceberg, and it turns out there is a complex process behind even a simple image. This is true for my husband. While the landscape offers the visual inspiration, concern for our environment is what fuels his concepts for whole bodies of his work.
Artwork itself is a source of inspiration for artists and non-artists alike: the feeling we get from viewing a masterpiece, the story that unfolds in a theater performance that gives insight into the human condition, the state of relaxed concentration we experience from listening to live music. Sometimes we underestimate the importance of exposing ourselves to a wide variety of experiences, influences and inspirations. Artists and arts organizations need to be constantly aware of what is happening in the art world around them locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Having knowledge about Art History informs artists’ work, as well. This is where inspiration comes from! So many artists are building on the ideas, styles and techniques of those that came before them and then, in turn, influencing the artists that come after—a circle of inspiration.
And what if we apply ideas about seeking inspiration to the communities around us? Instead of looking at dilapidated buildings and feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, we can see them as opportunities for creative interventions, new businesses or maybe even a chance to work with a young artist to create new signage or a sculptural façade. We can also look to models used in other cities for ideas and solutions to problems we face. With the challenges we face as a community or as a nation, do we have to accept the way things are, and the language “that is how we’ve always done it,” or can we be inspired to think about the way things could be? We can all be artists in our communities by seeking inspiration and applying creative problem solving in our daily lives.
Feed your soul though nature, art, your families, a good book, a great meal. Seek inspiration where you have always found it and maybe from some new places. Get out of your comfort zone! Try new things! Grasp new opportunities! Live an inspired life!
Melinda Childs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-362-4328.