Artistic inspiration

Inspiration (from the Latin inspirare, meaning "to breathe into") is an unconscious burst of creativity in a literary, musical, or visual art and other artistic endeavours. The concept has origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism. The Greeks believed that inspiration or "enthusiasm" came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Similarly, in the Ancient Norse religions, inspiration derives from the gods, such as Odin. Inspiration is also a divine matter in Hebrew poetics. In the Book of Amos the prophet speaks of being overwhelmed by God's voice and compelled to speak. In Christianity, inspiration is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Book illustration of Byzantine Emperor Justinian's inspiration for Hagia Sophia. The cathedral had burnt down during a riot; now Justinian would build an even more beautiful one.

In the 18th century philosopher John Locke proposed a model of the human mind in which ideas associate or resonate with one another in the mind. In the 19th century, Romantic poets such as Coleridge and Shelley believed that inspiration came to a poet because the poet was attuned to the (divine or mystical) "winds" and because the soul of the poet was able to receive such visions. In the early 20th century, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed himself to have located inspiration in the inner psyche of the artist. Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung's theory of inspiration suggests that an artist is one who was attuned to racial memory, which encoded the archetypes of the human mind.

The Marxist theory of art sees it as the expression of the friction between economic base and economic superstructural positions, or as an unaware dialog of competing ideologies, or as an exploitation of a "fissure" in the ruling class's ideology. In modern psychology inspiration is not frequently studied, but it is generally seen as an entirely internal process.


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