Awakening Ingenuity


The Muses Sarcophaus at the Louvre, Jastrow 2006

The Muses Sarcophaus at the Louvre, Jastrow 2006

Juicing your creative process.

By Theresa Rolen Long

Kiki de Montparnasse was a force to be reckoned with. Actress, singer, painter, and model, she personified Bohemian style in 1920s Paris. Her joie de vivre inspired hundreds of Man Ray’s photographic portraits, including the famous Noire et Blanche series commissioned by Vogue. Kiki was one of Man’s greatest artistic inspirations. Fueling, rousing, and encouraging him, she was a quintessential muse.

But what, exactly, is a muse? Greek mythology tells the tale of Zeus and his nine daughters, deemed “the muses,” who presided over various arts and sciences. They were the mothers of invention—directing creativity and sowing seeds of thought in the minds of artists, poets, thinkers, writers, and inventors. A muse is not just an artist’s companion. They are a source of inspiration and ideas, enhancing and perhaps even complicating life…but always keeping companions on their artistic toes.

History is riddled with many a famous, or infamous, muse. Keats wrote excruciating poetry about his unrequited love, Fanny Brawne. Jeanne Duval motivated Baudelaire’s pen and Manet’s paintbrush. Picasso had a collection of them, most notably Maar and Walter, but Dali had Gala, and only Gala, inspiring his oeuvre. Warhol placed the mercurial Edie Sedgwick on a pedestal, while Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were mutual muses, influencing each other in word, song, and portrait.

No one can deny the fashionably renowned friendship between Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, who transformed her into an eternal paragon of style. Likewise, Roger Vadim transformed an unknown Brigitte Bardot into another iconic movie star, writing many films just for her. It seems almost every famous artist has found motivation by, and perhaps a bad ending with, at least one lovely muse….

Which brings us to the rock-and-roll muses. Anita Pallenberg, Francoise Hardy, and Marianne Faithfull—to name just a few— left many a famous musician with a broken heart, an empty wallet, and a notebook full of priceless lyrics.

Most of us are not fortunate enough to live the true artist lifestyle with classic muse in tow, inspiring our ideas at any given moment of a freewheeling day or night. So the question remains: How do we find needed inspiration, harness it, and develop our own successful creations?

We are all capable of being creative. It simply requires going through a process, just like anything. Whether you are writing a fictional novel or a cookbook, inventing an app, creating a work of art, or designing a home, here are five elements needed to amp up your creative process.

Clarity of Mind. Keep your body and mind in top shape through good habits, nutrition, and exercise. We know there have been many masterpieces created by artists under the influence or in the throes of addiction. But good health is the foundation for being sustainably creative.

Stimulation. Read books and magazines, watch good films, and listen to podcasts and music. Hit the library, have lunch with colleagues, and attend symposiums and meetings. Hang out with people who inspire you—your own “muse-gang.” Immerse yourself in nature and observe the world. Research, experiment, play, scribble, and talk to yourself. You never know what kernel of information your mind will latch onto that evolves into an idea.

Incubation. Once you’ve identified your idea, hash it out and stare at it. Shelf it for a few days, then come back to it. Analyze its issues, but don’t get frustrated. You shouldn’t force a bud to blossom. Great ideas can take a bit of time to organize, conceptualize, and actualize.

Shifting Perspective. Interacting with unconventional and strange-to-us people introduces us to what we don’t know and aren’t used to. Bouncing ideas off of others provides us with different viewpoints and solutions. Breaking routine, taking the long way home, being spontaneous, getting up early/staying up later, and visiting new places are great ways to launch fresh concepts and compositions in your brain. In other words, do things you’ve never done before; your imagination will thank you.

Performance. So you’ve been inspired and you have an idea. It’s personal and it’s so you. But it will remain nothing more than an idea if you don’t implement it. So prod yourself to make it happen!

Perhaps you can identify a muse or two in your own life. For me, my children and pets fuel my inventiveness. Their unique perspectives and lack of agendas keep me infinitely curious around them. I draw creative energy from nature, love, friends, books, art, music, and film. And I am motivated to create my best work by the designers, architects, and artists I admire and respect.

Who or what influences you and bolsters your creativity? What great idea sits patiently in the waiting room of your mind? You may not have a Kiki in your life, but I bet if you keep your eyes peeled you will find inspiration from unexpected sources, in unexpected places, and exactly when you need it.

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