Can Knowing Less Make You More Inspired?

2016 Artwork Knowing less and being more inspired

Although I’ll be talking about the role that knowledge (or lack of knowledge) can play when it comes to getting inspired to make art, make comics, write fiction etc… I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a few paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Anyway, I seem to be going through another punk phase at the time of writing this article. Being one of my two oldest favourite genres of music (and the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered), this isn’t exactly surprising. But, the interesting thing is that most of what I know about punk music, I’ve learnt within the past few years.

Until sometime in my mid-late teens, the only punk bands I really listened to were The Offspring (still one of my favourite bands) and Sum 41.

Even when I discovered classic punk when I was sixteen or seventeen, I only really knew a few famous songs by the Sex Pistols and The Clash. I discovered a couple of songs by Rancid and NOFX when I was about eighteen or nineteen. In my early twenties, I only had one Bad Religion album (and only listened to about three or four songs from it).

Punk music was the very first “cool” genre I discovered and I didn’t really know much about it. It was a intriguingly mysterious and ineffably cool glimpse into another place and another time.

I probably still don’t know that much about the punk genre, but I know a lot more than I used to, even though I’d be hesitant to call myself a “punk”.

Not only that, punk imagery turns up slightly more in my artwork than it used to do. Still, if it wasn’t for that initial period of mystery – I’d never have been so curious about the genre and it probably wouldn’t hold so much power over my imagination. It would just be an “ordinary” everyday background thing, like heavy metal music is.

There’s something both wonderful and frustrating about knowing just a little bit about something incredibly cool. On the one hand, it feels like you’re separated from something that should be an essential part of your life. On the other hand, your mind is filled with the idea that there’s lots of cool stuff out there waiting to be discovered. In the meantime, your imagination has to “fill in the gaps”.

And this is where inspiration can appear. If you can’t learn much out about something fascinating, but you want to see more of it, then it’s up to you to make stuff in that genre – if only to satisfy your own curiosity. Yes, if you don’t know enough about the genre, you’ll probably make mistakes – but you might also come up with a totally “unique” version of that genre.

But, even though you’ll probably just make mistakes, you’ll still feel extremely inspired by your curiosity. To use yet another personal example, I’ve been fascinated by the zombie genre for almost as long as I can remember. As soon as I saw some screenshots of “Resident Evil 2” in a games magazine when I was a kid, I thought that it was the coolest genre ever.

But, being a kid – and later a young teenager- my access to zombie movies and my level of understanding of the genre was severely limited. Yes, I got a copy of “Resident Evil 2” a couple of years later, read some horror novels and even saw a couple of zombie movies. But, my understanding of the genre was still ridiculously limited back then.

As such, most of the zombie stories I used to write were “serious” thriller stories that were filled with as much gore as I could cram onto the page. I thought that it was a badass genre that existed just to shock and scare people. Of course, now that I’m older, I can look back on these old stories and laugh. At it’s core, the zombie genre doesn’t have to be frightening, depressing or “serious” – it’s actually at it’s absolute best when it’s used as a vehicle for dark comedy and/or for more punk-like anarchic storytelling. But, I didn’t know that back then.

Still, being fascinated by the zombie genre (and the horror genre in general) was the thing that first really got me into writing fiction. It was the thing that made me a more creative person (even if, years later, I’m an artist/webcomic maker rather than a writer). I knew that I didn’t know everything about this genre, so I tried to make my own examples of it to fill that gap.

Although knowledge can seriously increase the quality and depth of your creative works, a lack of knowledge can be the engine that propels you forward. Unfulfilled curiosity is one of the most powerful sources of motivation and, if you’re motivated enough (and curious enough) then inspiration usually isn’t too far away.

Of course, everything I’ve just said is probably obsolete these days. In fact, I’m probably a member of the last generation who will have any access to this potent source of inspiration. Why? Because it’s easier than ever to satisfy your curiosity these days. If you’re curious, you can just type your question into Google or Wikipedia, and you’ll have all of the answers you’ll ever need.

On the whole, this is a good thing. If it wasn’t for the internet, I wouldn’t know half of what I currently know about punk music (or a hundred other subjects). I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog or making art regularly (posting art online is one thing that helps me to stay motivated). The internet is probably the best thing to have ever happened to knowledge, understanding and learning.

But, at the same time, it also means that people might miss out on those formative experiences of not knowing enough about something really cool. The experience of knowing that there is something great out there, but that it is slightly out of reach. This is one of the most powerful sources of creative motivation and inspiration, but my generation is probably the last generation to ever experience it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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