Inspiration and the Muse

“Art has no end but its own perfection” –Plato.

According to Plato, inspiration is a necessary component of art. Inspiration can be defined as a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelations. Whether it comes from the divine, from within, or from others, inspiration possesses the artist to create real art.  An artist must let go of control to allow inspiration to emerge and nourish their potential to achieve full form and actuality. Inspiration is the difference between an artist with emotion, creativity, and passion, and a painter with merely talent and skill. It distinguishes creativity from craft. Inspiration comes in many forms: failure, curiosity, anger, love, empathy, and other’s dedication and passion. Inspiration can be infectious, like an overwhelming energy or spirit, touching those willing to open themselves to its embrace. As Thomas Merton said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Inspiration reveals something to the self by a muse. A muse is a spirit, sprite, or goddess. It is an agent of the everlasting and the real. A muse can be an individual, a relationship, a person, or a reflection of oneself, ideas, and desires. The relationship between an artist and muse can be thought of like the relationship between a lover and beloved. An artist is inspired by this other like no other. Inspiration from a muse neither be taught nor given. Accepting inspiration from a muse requires vulnerability and strength at the same time. Vulnerability to open oneself to accept the inspiration and strength to follow it to the divine and back.

According to Plato, anyone has the capacity to be inspired, but divine inspiration, and thus artists, are rare and impressive. He believes that God gives inspiration so that He may speak to the people through the artist. There are two spheres of existence, the finite and the infinite, and the artist, as inspired, dwells between these two existences. Inspiration lifts the artist’s consciousness out of the finite and into the real and infinite of the divine. An inspired artist must lose control and become possessed so that they can become open to something outside themselves. It can be said that to contact the divine requires madness, for artists must transcend reason and rationality to go beyond conventional reality. This releases them from the norms of society. For Plato, this transformation from inspiration is essential to becoming an artist, an immortal figure in history who touched the real and then came back to relay it to the people. As Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”1 Artists are the translators and interpreters of the Gods.

Plato uses a magnet analogy to describe how artists are the interpreters of and bounded to God. Image a series of metal rings connected to a magnet. The magnet is the muse that radiates inspiration. The first ring is the artist, who is inspired by the force of the magnet to create art. The following rings are actors and rhapsodies who perform or interpret the work of the artist. Inspiration runs from the artist through the actors and rhapsodies to the final ring in the magnetic chain of inspiration, the audience. Every ring in the chain feels the magnetic force, or inspiration, of the muse. This is how the artist acts as the interpreter of the divine. Alex Grey said, “When artists give form to revelation, their art can advance, deepen and potentially transform the consciousness of their community.”2 It is through the artist, the first ring, that the inspired message of the divine, the magnetic force, can be transferred to everyone else, all of the other rings.

1. Phillips, Renee., Manhattan Arts International. International Association of Art Critics. (2017, February 18). Art and Quotes by Famous Artists. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.healing-power-of-art.org/art-and-quotes-by-famous-artists/.

2. Phillips, Renee., Manhattan Arts International. International Association of Art Critics. (2017, February 18). Art and Quotes by Famous Artists. Retrieved February 23, 2017, from http://www.healing-power-of-art.org/art-and-quotes-by-famous-artists/.

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