Perhaps, there is not an artist alive that has not heard about the muse. That ethereal something that makes us pick up the brush. Doubtless, the muse has been responsible for many painting sessions into the wee hours of the morning, fueled by caffeine. It leaves us exhausted, parched and hungry for more. Artists can create for years at a time owing to the inspiration of a muse.
If you have ever been completely captured by an idea and felt a rush of energy that drove you to flesh it out, then you have entertained the muse. You might have even surprised yourself by how your ideas kept flowing with such clarity. You can think of the muse as inspiration on steroids. Most of us can easily get inspired; however, many times we lose our steam before we even get started. The muse is the kind of inspiration that will not let you sleep, eat or play peacefully until your conception is brought to fruition. In short, it is an obsessive preoccupation with the consummation of a brainchild.
If a tangible form of this existed, then it would definitely be bottled and surely in high demand. But, the muse should not be some unattainable luxury bestowed upon a chosen and fortunate few. All working artists and aspiring artists alike need to be able to tap into this energy that is vital for producing engaging work.
But, what happens when the muse eludes you? When you feel dread thinking of going into the studio or all your ideas seem flat with little substance?
Thankfully, there are some things that can be done and none of them require a great deal of effort.
Without intention, art can fall flat. This does not mean that every single thing you create has to have a purpose before you create it. As artists, we don’t always know why before we tackle an artwork. Notably in Expressionism, the artist works spontaneously. So, why are we talking about intention? This is because we are referring to your overall purpose. What are you trying to communicate to others when you create? You don’t have to give a complex answer.
Okay, let’s try this on for size: Think of your way of creating art as a recipe. The recipe has all the necessary instructions and techniques outlined. It also has a list of ingredients. Think of these ingredients as the themes you like to approach in your art. It could be something like a commentary on pop culture or classical portraits of the old masters. You might use these same ingredients in different measures to produce different results. The intention is the desired result. It could just be one overarching message or it could be something that is not so obvious.
Again, this is not always clear when you approach each individual piece. This is why artists create work in series. Working in series allows you to explore a theme from different angles.
Going back to the recipe analogy, let’s say you love Italian food and you take a lot of care to select the perfect ingredients. You even have a special recipe that you follow to the letter to make sure you get the same delicious result time after time. After making this particular recipe many different times, you decide to explore a little and tweak some things here and there. Each time you are trying to see if you can get a certain result.
When we are working on a series, we have the opportunity to delve into our preferred themes. The result is work that has intrigue and depth.
Open Your Eyes
What if you don’t have a recipe or a way of working? Maybe every time you make a work of art it is the product of sheer experimentation. In that case, you can still develop your themes by examining what you have already done to see if a perceived theme emerges. If you discover something that you want to explore further, then do a series of at least 10 works. Only explore themes that awaken your curiosity and make your heart race a little. For a little inspiration, here are some famous artists and their themes:
Vincent Van Gogh: intensely colorful landscapes
Frida Kahlo: Pain
Andy Warhol: Consumerism and mass production
Georgia O’Keeffe: Wonder of the natural environment
Jasper Johns: American Iconography