Why Inspiration Works In “Strange” Ways

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this list of “unexpected” inspirations behind various films but, rather than finding it strange or bizarre, my reaction was more along the lines of ‘it’s a bit of an over-simplification, but that’s how inspiration works‘.

The first thing to remember about inspiration is that it shouldn’t involve directly copying other things. After all, inspiration and plagiarism are two different things. So, taking inspiration usually involves taking the underlying elements, themes etc… of something and using them in a totally different way. So, when done well, inspired creative works should look at least slightly different to the things that inspired them.

The second thing to remember is that creative people rarely just have one inspiration. In order to create interesting and original works, you need to have as many different inspirations as possible. The more inspirations you have, the less obvious any one inspiration is and the more chance there is of your inspirations interacting and merging with each other in interesting ways.

The third thing to remember is that inspiration is a highly personal and unique thing. Two artists, writers, directors etc… might be inspired by the same thing, but will take inspiration from different parts of it due to their own preferences, sensibilities and interests. As such, it is very difficult to tell exactly how someone will be inspired by something.

The fourth thing to remember is that creative people are often on the lookout for inspirations. As such, it is possible to discover inspirations in all sorts of unexpected places.

For example, the use of colour in most of my art was inspired by a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels, of all things. The process of finding new inspirations is part research, part vigilance and part luck/serendipity. So, this is why creative people can sometimes have “strange” or “random” inspirations.

The fifth thing to remember is that inspiration and fandom generally go hand in hand. Most of the time, people are only inspired by things that they really like in some way or another. And, since creative people are… well… people, they don’t fit into neat boxes and categories. In other words, they often have a wide range of interests and fascinations. As such, “strange” inspirations are often just inspirations based on something that you might not expect the artist, writer etc.. in question to be interested in.

The sixth thing to remember is that inspirations can often be an offshoot from daydreams. For example, at least two of the inspirations on the list I linked to at the beginning of the article came about because a director saw or experienced something and then started daydreaming about applying the “mechanics” of it to some other situation or circumstance. As such, inspiration can often be a way to connect two seemingly unrelated things in the way that only daydreams can.

The seventh thing to remember is that inspiration can be a very subtle thing. Sometimes, someone might not be inspired by any of the obvious visual or narrative features of something, but by the “atmosphere” or “mood” that this thing evokes in them. This means that an inspiration may not be immediately obvious at first glance, since it is based on something that can’t be “seen” directly.

The eighth thing to remember is that what a creative person does with an inspiration is often more important than the inspiration itself. In other words, inspirations can be used in unusual or unexpected ways and still be really effective. This, of course, can sometimes make it difficult to spot what has inspired someone.

The ninth thing to remember is the whole subject of common inspirations. It’s possible for two things to either be inspired by the same thing or for someone to be inspired by something that is inspired by something else. As such, an artist’s or writer’s inspirations might not be what you might think.

For example, if one artist takes inspiration from the lighting used in 1980s horror novel covers, another artist takes inspiration from “film noir” movies and another artist takes inspiration from the lighting used in Caravaggio paintings, then the lighting in all four pictures will look similar because all of these inspirations use some type of chiaroscuro lighting.

The final thing to remember is that inspiration isn’t an exact science. Like dreaming or daydreaming, it can often follow it’s own unique logic. As such, trying to apply logical rules to it won’t work all of the time.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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