A discussion of people and things that might inspire us.


In ancient Greek mythology, nine muses, all female were thought to inspire science, mathematics, philosophy, art, (music and dance), drama and inspiration.  I don’t really understand how they could inspire inspiration, but Wikipedia said it was so.  Some authors were said to invoke muses when writing poetry, hymns or epic history.

I believe we all need inspiration from time to time, but it may be more helpful to have more current models from which to draw encouragement and drive.  The muses were said to have related history orally.  They were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.

I admit that I have never studied Greek mythology.  I remember SAT and ACT tests that I took when preparing for college.  There always seemed to be whole sections of questions about mythological characters and the ways in which they were related to each other.  They also threw in Roman mythology which only served to further confuse me.  I believe I answered those questions by closing my eyes and stabbing the paper with the pencil.  From there I would choose the answer to which I had come the closest.  In most cases, I was lucky to even hit the paper, let alone an answer to a specific question.  I suppose I was hoping for “inspiration.”

In my life, my inspiration has most generally come from people I admire. Almost all of us had teachers to whom we related.  We could easily distinguish them from those we made an effort to avoid.  Many of us were inspired by parents or other relatives.  The important thing is that we found people in our lives who made us want to strive to reach higher, try harder and accomplish more.  When we’re really young, this happens naturally without forethought.  It’s only later that we begin to question who might be setting a good example that we might like to follow.

I remember a woman at one of the churches my family attended.  She played the piano really well and it always cheered me up to hear her version of a familiar hymn.  When she played, the hymns seemed like entirely different songs.  I truly loved the way she played.  She inspired me, not to be like her, but to be the best I could be and infuse my music with similar energy and passion.

We don’t necessarily need to be inspired only by people. It’s easy to imagine drawing inspiration from nature or events.  Sometimes, simply standing before a great painting can provide inspiration.  I remember the first time I saw a Van Gogh painting.  It was not a copy of his work, but one of his actual paintings displayed in a museum, and the vibrant colors almost jumped off the canvas or cardboard.  Van Gogh was one of those artists who didn’t need canvas.  No matter what he used for his paintings, they were magnificent.  His painting inspires me.  I have no aspirations to be a great painter. To be completely honest, I don’t think I could ever be much of a painter at all, but I can, nevertheless, be inspired by artistry that touches others.

There are other artists whose work inspires me.  I really like El Greco, Modigliani, Monet and a number of others.  El Greco’s work intrigues me, partly because of his elongated figures that suggest reaching toward the heavens.  Modigliani, too, uses elongated figures, but with a different result.  Monet’s paintings amaze for many reasons, but one characteristic in particular baffles me.  Standing close to one of Monet’s paintings of lilies, one can hardly discern what the subject is.  When I view such a painting, I have to stand back far enough that a paint brush would have to be several feet long in order to reach the canvas.  It seems he had the ability to see from two points of view at once.

George Seurat’s pointillism demonstrates his ability to see many colors in one.  Looking closely at the green grass in “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,”  it’s easy to observe that it consists of many colors.  Up close one can see green, red, yellow and blue as well as other colors and shades, but when one takes a step or two back from the painting, only green is detected.  However, it is a green with richness and depth unlike any paint that comes from a tube.

I could go on and on with examples of artistic compositions that impress me greatly.  Even the architecture of huge and complex buildings leave me awestruck.  My lack of coordination is testimony to my lack of ability to ever be a dancer, but it does not prevent me from enjoying and admiring the work that dancers display as their art.

Of course, I’ve been influenced by a number of musicians.  I’m particularly fond of Beethoven’s compositions.  Since I’ve spent much of my life studying the subject, I could fill volumes with the names of composers whose music has had an effect on my own output.  I’m also in tune with a number of living composers and musicians. 

It’s significant to recognize that everyone sees things somewhat differently.  I’m inspired to realize that a tree can be seen as shade on a hot summer day, shelter when it rains, lumber for a builder and so on.  We need to find our own inspiration.  What works for me may not work for anyone else.  It is no one’s responsibility to inspire us, but rather our own responsibility to make sure that we find our own muse.  Whatever stimulates your own artistic vent will work.  We don’t need the mythological muses that so prominently contributed to the artistry of ancient Greece.  We can substitute myriad options that can offer equal inspiration.