"Where do you get your ideas?"
It's the question everyone involved in the creative arts hears at some time or other, whether artist, writer, performer or musician. My artist husband, Art Boy used to answer, "The Idea Channel," until he realized people believed him, and were rushing home to check their cable listings.
Inspiration is a mystery, the way a tiny little germ of an idea smolders in the brain for days, perhaps years, before it flames up into a creative act. People always want to know where the idea came from for my historical pirate novel The Witch From The Sea. My standard answer is too many Errol Flynn movies in my formative years, but I'm not just saying that to get a laugh. We absorb powerful visual images from movies (even small black-and-white ones on TV). Those images percolated inside me for decades until I found an outlet for them in my female coming-of-age story.
One of the most idea-combustible experiences I've ever had was seeing the movie Rivers And Tides about artist Andy Goldsworthy. Most often called a "landscape" or "environmental" artist, Goldworthy wanders out into nature and creates art from natural materials-cones of rock or ice, whirlpools of twigs, leaves sewn together with thorns snaking languidly downriver. This is truly art for art's sake; the wonder of it depends on our certain knowledge that the work will not last long. And Thomas Riedelsheimer's unnarrated documentary allows Goldworthy's artmaking to inspire us on its own terms, without telling us what to think about it.
Once, Art Boy and I crept on little cats' feet into an open rehearsal of the Cabrillo Music Festival, here in Santa Cruz. We saw Evelyn Glennie, the barefoot priestess of percussion, who was performing a piece called U. F. O. commissioned from composer Michael Daugherty. In this digital age, I know some people refuse to leave the comfort of their own home sound systems to go listen to music. But there's no way a CD could capture the live experience of Glennie prowling around the auditorium breathing delicate life into a series of windchimes, gongs, gourds, vibraphones, and other percussive instruments without names until the whole place reverberated with that eerie and magical resonance. It was like being swept up in the tail of a comet.
A few summers ago, we stumbled upon an amazing art show in the French countryside. In the folk art museum of the medieval village Noyers-sur- Serein, we found an exhibit by assemblage artists Balata et Jullien made up of dioramas in large boxes depicting minature interiors populated by tiny clay figures. Beyond the intricate and witty dioramas were four shallow display cases holding hundreds more of the clay figures-humanoid, grotesque, fertility figures, demons, id monsters and indescribable creatures who might have been freshly dug up from some primitive ruin. These figures were called "Idols," but it was as if they'd exploded out of the imagination too fast to be contained in the elegant interiors of the diorama boxes, as if their wild, frenzied clamor to be born surpassed the whole box idea and demanded this raw and raucous separate existence.
So far I haven't found myself dabbling in rock scupture, percussion, or clay, but you never know what's going to trigger your imagination-or how your imagination will react. Art of all genres can be playful, challenging, voluptuous, rude or all of the above, but it is always stimulating. Experience as much as you can, with an open mind. You never know when The Idea Channel is coming on.