Letting Inspiration Find You: An Exploration of Artistic Influence

Colin Schrein, A&E Editor

As a musician, finding inspiration can often be one of my biggest challenges. Sometimes it flows naturally and I’m able to conjure up notes out of thin air, while on other occasions, I am left in an inspirational wasteland. Artists of all mediums and types draw from any number of inspirations, ranging from personal experience to a projected alter-ego and social commentary. In examining a few unique styles of inspiration, hopefully you can find a new way to find influence, artistic or not.

Director David Lynch, best known for his landmark TV show “Twin Peaks” and movies such as “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead,” always seems to be recognizable. After just a few minutes of any of his works, it’s easy to tell that Lynch was the man behind the magic. The term “Lynchian” was even coined to describe his trademark juxtaposition of uncertainty and Freudian uncanniness into everyday life. But what drew Lynch to imbue such a stylized tone? His criticisms and portrayal of American life is partly autobiographical, seeping into the layers of “Eraserhead” especially, which explores the existential dread of living in a dilapidated and industrial landscape. Growing up in poor areas of Philadelphia, Lynch was inspired by the grit and inescapable duality of daytime business and nighttime abandonment of the industrial city. Taking place in a much different setting of the small fictitious town of Twin Peaks, WA, “Twin Peaks” still ties back into an underlying sense of unsettledness. This harks back to Lynch’s experiences in Philadelphia, as he constantly felt insecure and unsafe in his daily life.

Places are not an uncommon source of inspiration, although people can be inspired by them in many different ways. Whereas Lynch developed his signature “Lynchian” feeling largely out of a single place and environment, writer Jack Kerouac drew from a range of places. In his semi-autobiographical book “On the Road,” the story follows Sal Paradise on his journey across America and the people he meets along the way. Kerouac’s sense of place is striking throughout the book, capturing a wide brush-stroke of America reaching from metropolitan New York to the “magic trees and greeneries of mid-American Illinois.” A large part of Kerouac’s literary work centers around his longtime friend and travel companion Neal Cassady, or as he was usually known in Kerouac’s books, Dean Moriarty. Kerouac’s fixation and idolization of Cassady and other periodic people such as William S. Burroughs presents itself in numerous storylines throughout his career. In “Visions of Cody,” Kerouac takes this to another level, mixing prose with taped conversations between Jack Duluoz (Kerouac) and Cody Pomeray (Cassady). Unraveling in nights laced with weed smoke and Benzedrine, “Visions of Cody” follows the sprawling relationship and further travels of Kerouac and Cassady, showing the workings of a muse on the run.

In an entirely different literary sphere, Sara Teasdale’s poetry captures a sense of wrenching heartbreak and loneliness amid personal strife. Littered with washy imagery of the churning sea and allusions to loss and death, Teasdale’s words ring with a dark, but touching beauty. Born in 1884 in St. Louis, MO, she joined the group of female artists, The Potters, in her late teens, kickstarting her foray into writing. Teasdale would go on to live a life of relative isolation. After leaving behind her poor poet-lover Vachel Lindsay, she married a well-to-do businessman, which often left her alone during his extensive work travels. In her forlornness, she wrote scenic lyric-poems, culminating in the publication of her breakout collection “Rivers to the Sea” in 1915 and her Pulitzer-winning collection “Love Songs” in 1917. Her inspiration reaches both inwards and out – dazzling imagery of nature scenes intertwines with deep introspection. Sadly, in 1933, Teasdale tragically died by suicide, overdosing on sleeping pills. Past her inspiration of nature and mental health struggles, her work continues to spark inspiration itself. I recently have been composing a song cycle using her poetry which is prompting me to unearth many different ends of her style and body of work.

Artistic inspiration finds us in so many facets, through deliberate research, personal connection, travels and random chance. It might not be the inspiration we thought we were going to happen upon, but it might just be the inspiration we need. Going forward, you might consider opening your eyes to all that is in front of you. There are many instances of beauty and pain that are fleeting and other instances that last a lifetime. Be patient and inspiration will come in unexpected ways.

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