Inspiration and Doubt

Recent posts by Lisa Hirsch and Daniel Wolf approach the work involved in composition from very different directions. In a brief meditation on the idea of "inspriation" Ms Hirsch writes

I think the idea of "inspiration" is misused and overblown in discussing most music. It's a fuzzy word, and in terms of how it gets used in marketing - not just for music - it has all sorts of spiritual overtones and suggestions that don't particularly apply to how music is composed. I also dislike the idea that composition comes primarily from "inspiration." New music comes primarily from hard work. Sure, it's easier for some composers than others; we all gape in amazement at the endless stream of great songs seemingly tossed off by Schubert, but Beethoven's sketches speak to the hard work and endless revision it took for him to compose.

Yes. We tend to equate "inspiration" and "genius" with ease, as if the artist is taking dictation. I tend to think of works and/or performances as "inspired" when everyone involved is at the top of their form (or above their own usually top) and everybody is on the same page, as in the "Midnight Train to Georgia" sequence on last week's 30 Rock.

Mr. Wolf writes, about himself as a composer,

. . . that doubt -- or at least a good, steady dose of self criticism -- is operative for me, I don't think that the notion of belief, or in this case, an absence of belief, is meaningfully opposed to doubt. Doubt, for me, is the recognition of opportunity to do something else, or to find an alternative approach, and to be open to the possibility of failure.

That openness to everything artistic--beauty, prettiness, ugliness (the opposite of the pretty, not the beautiful), success, and even failure is one attribute of an artist ready to be at the top of their game, ready to take advantage of the "opportunity to do something else" and create their best work.

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