The Greek poet Homer began The Iliad, one of the greatest works of all time, with a prayer for inspiration. “Rage – Goddess sing the rage… Begin, Muse” (trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin: New York City, 1990).
Friedrich Schiller cultivated inspiration literally like compost: he kept a drawer filled with rotten apples.
Marcel Proust lined his walls with cork to keep out the racket of Parisian nightlife.
James Joyce wore a white suit to reflect his words.
Truman Capote called himself a “horizontal author” in an interview with The Paris Review. “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch,” he said.
Steven Pressfield begins his day by putting on a lucky hoodie and quoting Homer’s invocation.
I am inspired and mystified by the process of creativity – the godlike act of bringing something out of nothing, the often idiosyncratic process that inspires a thinker to step outside of the box and create something new, almost ex-nihilo.
In an intriguing passage in the Book of Exodus, Moses describes the creative process of Bezalel, the son of Uri. “See, the Lord has… filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach” (Ex. 35:30).
Greek mythology tells us that Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, gave birth to nine beautiful and talented daughters who were so dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and art that they became the goddesses of inspiration: the Muses. Poets, like Homer, would invoke them within the first few lines of a work to call them into the work and inspire creativity. They only appeared to artists whose commitment proved worthy.
Explanations differ, but the mystery remains. Artists still grapple with the problem of creativity. Like a coy goddess, creativity might never show up – or it might leave at any moment. How do we invite it in, capture it, cultivate it? Where does it come from?
I do best with an atelier, which I wrote about last spring – mental and physical space dedicated to creativity. I’m inspired by the habits of creatives. I’m inspired by learning about the science of creativity.
And that – all of that – is why I am working on The Atelier Project. The Project is a website and e-book dedicated to exploring, illuminating, and celebrating the process and mystery of creativity. I’m looking for a diversity of creatives to submit a diversity of thought. I’m hoping to create a veritable compendium of creativity! Please check it out and share your muse.