When I visited a Frida Kahlo exhibition several years ago, I was struck by her revelation about the inspiration behind her art. ‘I am my own muse,’ she explained. ‘I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.’ It explains why 55 of the 143 paintings in her oeuvre were self-portraits.
In Greek mythology, nine muses were believed to be the source of artistic inspiration for the Classical arts, such as poetry, music and dance. Today, while some creators may be inspired by a particular person they dub their muse, most would agree that inspiration comes from a myriad of sources.
We can find inspiration from being in nature, practising meditation, listening to motivating speakers, visiting a special place, spending time with children, experiencing profound emotions, participating in something new or challenging. Like Frida, the muse can strike from within, or it can occur from an external source. Inspiration can occur inexplicably and swiftly, or it can be a gradual dawning.
Whichever way inspiration happens, it requires constant nurturing, otherwise it will fade. Having written 47 different endings to his masterpiece A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway understood the hard work involved in creativity. ‘It’s none of their business that you have to learn how to write,’ he once said. ‘Let them think you were born that way.’
On days when my creativity levels feel low, I sometimes wish one of the mythological muses would imbue me with magical powers and a chapter I had been struggling to write would suddenly sound brilliant.
I’ve learned, however, that writing, as with any creative process, requires hard work. I won’t be satisfied with the results unless I’ve put in the long hours of editing, rewriting, scrapping entire chapters and starting from scratch.