Creative Inspiration for Songwriters and Artists

We all need a bit of creative inspiration once in a while. For me, it’s often enough to listen to another musician play to get my songwriting juices flowing. There is nothing like the spark of one artist’s creative offspring to pass on that same spark to me.

As a way of exploring how others think about the creative process, I’ve gathered together a few sage words of wisdom and insight from musicians and artists (new and old) to help repudiate those creative-blues.

One of my favourite painters, Paul Klee, wrote about being inspired from the world around him simply by observing and thinking. According to Klee, an artist should be selective, economical, and disciplined in his craft:

Nature can afford to be prodigal in everything, the artist must be frugal down to the smallest detail. Nature is garrulous to the point of confusion, let the artist be truly taciturn. […] Will and discipline are everything. Discipline as regards the work as a whole, will as regards its parts. Will and craft are intimately joined here; here, the man who can’t do, can’t will. The work then accomplishes itself out of these parts thanks to discipline that is directed toward the whole.

For the poet and singer Leonard Cohen, creativity was hard won and born out of difficult and painful experience. In this sense, he warns against the creative dangers of banality:

What a joyless farce we make out of our lives, especially the cautious, especially them because what they hoard is leaking away day-by-day. Give me a war, give me complicated divorces and disgrace, give broken lives and alcoholic fantasy, give me anything but pettiness and safety.

About his own writing process, Cohen says:

I’m stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it’s delicious and it’s horrible and I’m in it and it’s not very graceful and it’s very awkward and it’s very painful and yet there’s something inevitable about it.

The singer, guitarist and broadcaster Guy Garvey has this to say about writing songs:

Don't be scared of failure. If it's all getting too intense, remember it's only a song. I learned that the hard way: when I was younger, I played the part of the erratic, irascible drunk in order to have something to write about. The best advice I've ever had came about 20 years ago from Mano McLaughlin, one of Britain's best songwriters. "The song is all," he said, "Don't worry about what the rest of the music sounds like: you have a responsibility to the song." I found that really inspiring: it reminded me not to worry about whether a song sounds cool, or fits with everything we've done before – but just to let the song be what it is. (From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/jan/02/top-artists-creative-inspiration)

The composer Gustave Mahler (yes, we’re really jumping around here) is well known for the variety and contrasts in his music, and reflects an artist who own spiritual and moral questioning was at the core of his work. Here Mahler talks about a state of inspiration after a trip to New York:

I am experiencing so infinitely much now […] I can hardly talk about it. How should I attempt to describe such a crisis? I see everything in such a new light – am in such a state of flux, sometimes I should hardly be surprised to find myself in a new body. (Like Faust in the last scene.) I am thirstier for life than ever before and find the ‘habit of existence’ sweeter than ever… How absurd it is to let oneself be submerged in the brutal whirlpool of life! .. Strange! when I hear music – even while I am conducting – I hear quite specific answers to all my questions – and am completely clear and certain. Or rather, I feel quite distinctly that they are not questions at all.

Finally, the painter Vincent Van Gogh writes to his brother Theo about the inner need to creative:

Ah, my dear brother, sometimes I know so well what I want. I can well do without God in both my life and also my painting, but, suffering as I am, I cannot do without something greater than myself, something which is my life – the power to create.

And if, deprived of the physical power, one tries to create thoughts instead of children, one is still very much part of humanity. And in my pictures I want to say something consoling as music does. I want to paint men and women with a touch of the eternal, whose symbol was once the halo, which we try convey by the very radiance and vibrancy of our colouring.

I hope these brief insights can help spark a few ideas off. If there are any pieces of advice you've received, please let us know about them.

Tags: advice for artists, artist quotes, creative inspiration, songwriting, songwriting ideas