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Monday, 27 July 2009


The Weaver of Grass has issued a challenge for this week to anyone interested - a meme: a post on those people who have been the greatest sources of inspiration. As most of you will know, my main interests are painting (and the visual arts in general) and poetry. The question therefore resolves itself into: who, in these two areas particularly, has most inspired me.

I think it might help if I said straight away that I have never been inspired to paint a particular picture by another painter. Similarly, no poet has ever provided the inspiration for a particular poem. I have occasionally been inspired by a painting to write a poem - and less often by a poem to paint a picture, but apart from a couple of exceptions (the second of which I will get to later) that has been the whole extent of it.

The first exception has to do with child art. At various times during my teaching career I was inspired by a young child's painting to put brush to canvas, nearly always with predictably frustrating results. Never did I get within a million miles of what the child's painting had inspired me to attempt. Whoever first discovers what it is that the child artist loses as s/he matures and then first discovers how it may be preserved will be responsible for enriching the world immeasurably.

Of course, poets and painters whom I admire have helped me along the way, though I do not think I would go as far as to call it influence, let alone inspiration. I will give you an example and you can judge for yourself. One of my heroes from the world of poetry is Seamus Heaney. Some years ago I was inspired to write some poems about my father who had just died. He had been a golf club-maker by profession, beginning in the days when they were made by hand. He could take a block of wood and shave it away to be left with, not just a club head, but a particular club head for a particular professional, capable of lifting the ball into a desired angle of flight. Later, when machines took over, he made the prototype for the machines to copy. He was also much in demand among professional golfers whenever they would require repairs or modifications to be made.

During the drafting of the poems I recalled some of Seamus Heaney's early poems. Digging was one. In it he spoke of his father's use of the spade as if it had been the tool of a craftsman, which of course it had been. He contrasts this with his own determination to be, not a farmer, but a writer. It ends:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

Another such poem was Follower. in it he compared the way as a child he had followed his father at his ploughing, admiring his skill with the horses and his eye for a straight furrow. The poem went on to compare that with his own awkwardness (I stumbled in his hobnailed wake an d how later, in his father's old age, it is he, the father, who keeps stumbling / behind me, and will not go away. There were other works by Heaney that sprang to mind: poems conveying the characters of various craftsmen and the flavours of their crafts or describing their skills. I did not consciously use these, but, as I say, I remembered them and they helped. Certainly I would not claim to have been inspired by any of them. The inspiration came from my father.

Taking another slant, there are a few poems I would dearly loved to have written. (That might make an interesting meme: which works do you wish you had written - or painted or composed or whatever.) The one above all that I would dearly love to claim for myself is Hugh MacDiarmid's fabulous long meditation, On a Raised Beach. Never could it be said though that it had inspired me - or ever would. Quite the reverse, in fact. Let me put it this way: if I had lain on that inland beach as MacDiarmid did and had I been inspired as he was to write a meditative poem about it, my knowledge of his poem would have killed stone dead (pun not intended) any inspiration that the experience might have produced. His poem is so out beyond and far above anything I might contemplate attempting that the thought of doing so would never occur.

And now to my second exception (the one I said I would come to):- As a lad of eleven or twelve or thereabouts i had a passionate interest in cycling. Touring to begin with, the cycle speedway: stripped-down bike, saddle low over the rear wheel, handlebars up-turned like backward-facing horns, one foot on the cinder track, slewing round makeshift tracks on bomb sites and the like. Then came time-trialling, and finally the beginnings (in this country) of what we then called massed-start racing, mainly on disused airfields and private estates. Somewhen about that time I discovered Masefield, I can't remember how or where, maybe at school, maybe not. Specifically, I discovered Reynard the Fox, a long, rather Chaucerian (as I remember it) poem about a fox hunt, told from the point of view of the fox. I think I can truthfully say that it inspired me to write ... but what I wrote, Oh dear, it was a dreadful parody purporting to tell the story of a massed-start cycle race. The really dreadful thing about it is that I can still remember whole sections of it. It was that bad, it was unforgettable. Worse yet, it was published. Only in the club magazine, nothing national, but for that to have been my first published work...

Here, in an act bordering on total abasement, are the opening lines:-

Don Boyd had broken from the pack
of milling wheelers all intent
on doing their best to bring him back,
now spurred by his clubmates' frantic cries
he thrust with his aching, unwilling thighs...

See what I mean! Not wishing to turn embarrassment into humiliation, I will leave it there. Inspiration means different things to different people. To me it simply means having been given a workable idea. I think I was given a workable idea, even though I didn't get the idea to work. Can you be inspired to write a dud? I think you can. I think I was.

But there is a higher form of inspiration, I would suggest: there is the artist or the work of art that inspires you, not to produce a particular painting, poem, piece of music, whatever, but to go that road, to take up that art-form and to follow where it leads. Unbelievably, perhaps, the poem that did that for me was Plato's Dialogue The Republic which I had, also around the age of eleven or twelve in E. V. Rieu's translation (Penguin edition). I was totally thrilled by it and I attribute my passion for poetry to... well, I don't know, should it be Plato or Rieu?

Meanwhile I was incubating a passion for art, without really being aware of it. A good deal of bad health meant that I was often confined to bed for longish spells. Drawing was a life-line. But then I went - probably was taken, but if so I can't remember by whom - to the Tate Gallery. There I was introduced to William Blake (his Beatrice is shown above), Samuel Palmer (the first image below is of his In a Shoreham Garden), Graham Sutherland (a typical image is shown below right), Henry Moore (his war drawings of people sheltering on the London Underground - penultimate image) and John Piper (final image). I suppose the big three were Palmer, Sutherland and Piper. They have never lost their magic. They took me to art school and on to college, confirming me in my desire to teach art - which I never did, but that's another story.


Rachel Green said...

Excellent post, and I have been inspired in the past by the same painters.

gleaner said...

I'm still undecided on my inspiration meme - your post has given me more thought on the subject. I like your suggestion for a meme on works you wished you had composed or painted.

Carl said...

Great post Dave.
I will do some thinking on the inspiration theme and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Your comment about children and art is spot on. I often wonder if nobody say to a child. No do it this way and stay in the lines what would happen. We all start out as artists and have to struggle to get back to what we could do as kids.

Batteson.Ind said...

Interesting idea... trying to think about inspiration.... it is such a many faceted thing... some days it can be as simple as being alive, other days the thought of death..... I think my head would explode if I tried to pin point it!

Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

I see you're getting in early. At least that gives us the opportunity to read at leisure. I don't see why you should be so critical of your cycling poem. I daresay you could write it differently now but that would be with the benefit of years that you had not then experienced. Doesn't make the original bad.

Rosaria Williams said...

I'm catching up here. First, about the poem on Writer's Block: BRILLIANT and inconcivable for most people. Now, this post is much more approacheable, familiar strands of life in search of a passion, or passions in search of a medium. This is CONCEIVABLE.

Jim Murdoch said...

I've written before about inspiration and I'm glad to see we're on the same page. I have been very keen to demystify it. Inspiration is a good idea. That's it. I get good ideas all of the time but not many of them develop into anything. That's because of my limitations as a writer. It's why I'm stumped by my novel right now. The idea is fine. I think it's a great idea. If I hadn't I wouldn't have started a project I knew would take me several years to complete but I just can't get what's in my head onto the page and believe what I've written.

As regards other writers and poets I've never been an imitator. I can see influences in fact I've just finished a post which will go up when my new book comes out next month and in it I list all the sources that I can identify that "inspired" the book and of course there's no simple one to one correlation; it's a pik 'n' mix and, again, I see you're the same, drawing from a number of sources. There's very little original in this world. Just think about how many basic colours there are but combined in different quantities they make up all the great – and not so great – art that has ever existed.

Cloudia said...

That last picture will haunt me!


Comfort Spiral

Cloudia said...

Viva Piper & YOU, David!

LR Photography said...

Excellent post Dave!

Mahmood Syed Faheem said...

Hey Dave! Very inspiring! Your blog is very nice. The images are very beautiful. God is Great. Best wishes.


Unknown said...

The skill your father used to craft his golf clubs is evident in the skill you use to discuss and write about poetry and works of art, Dave. Your craftmanship shines in every post you publish. I love reading your blogs! I went to MOMA in New York when I was 17 and remember being mesmorized by one of Jackson Pollock's works. I liked the harmony of it, the way all the paint worked together. I love your Samuel Palmer image.

Titus said...

Fabulous Dave. Those final four images are superlative, and I enjoyed the journey getting to them. Thanks!

Jinksy said...

You nailed the concept of inspiration exactly! :)

steven said...

hi dave, an excellent post - fascinating to read and thought-provoking! your comment on children and their art resonates deeply with me as a teacher. i share lessons with my students that to whatever degree i am capable provide a blend of technical skill with a jumping off point and then let 'em rip!! what comes out of them is often stunning in the sense that it is directly from them with very few filters. it's the filters that shuts off so much of what we value in children's creativity. i also think your meme suggestion is very worthy and i encourage you to pursue it!!! have a great day!! steven

Eryl said...

Hello, Jinksy kindly suggested I read this post (I'd have got here eventually anyway as I am following the meme) and I see why. Your insight into inspiration, especially what you say about MacDiarmid's poem, has shown me where I'm going wrong. Thanks.

Acornmoon said...

I do love Samuel Palmer, I can see you share my enthusiasm for this wonderful artist.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Scholarly thoughtful and modest,as ever, Dave,brilliant.And what a great painting by Piper right at the end,beautiful.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Scholarly thoughtful and modest,as ever, Dave,brilliant.And what a great painting by Piper right at the end,beautiful.

Elizabeth said...

I hadn't thought of John Masefield for a dog's age -and more.
And S. Palmer and Henry Moore.
A thoughtful tour of 19th and 20th century British art.
I was fascinated.
Thank you.

ladytruth said...

I'm so happy you found me so I could find you! Poetry is something very, very close to my heart and the way in which you write on your blog, I think you do it justice.

I agree with you 100% about the mystery of child art. I have three nieces ranging from 1 to 5 and what they create sometimes leaves me breathless. I always wish they would never grow up and lose that certain "something."

Looking forward to A LOT more of which I've read so far!

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

I hope you realize how much you are like those who you have sought inspiration from. You have posted thoughts and ideas that have stuck with me and to which I hark back to time and time again to keep myself on track with my creative activities.

The Weaver of Grass said...

It seems to me Dave that various people have been hugely inspirational to you. Don't be too hard on your early poem - you were only an early writer after all. I really enjoyed reading your post today - one thing about this meme - it really has made people think hard - and that is good. Thanks for joining in.

Kat Mortensen said...

I enjoyed this bit of soul-baring on your part, Dave. I do agree that one can be inspired to write a dud (having done just that on many an occasion when I was writing poetry based on topics in the news).
I can't address everything you've written, but I did find it all quite fascinating.
I'm wondering, have you seen the animated film, "The Triplets of Belleville"? I think you may enjoy it.


Crafty Green Poet said...

lots of inspiration in this post, some lovely paintings

surealiste said...

Wonderful post, beautiful poems that stimulate the imagination,and wondrous masterpieces that are both enriching to the yes as they are to the soul. In my point of view, inspiration can be anything and everything we see around us, be it a song,painting, sculpture, essay, or just a beautiful flower. Seeing others works of art and reading others works inspire me to create my own. But I think the proper term for it should be, "they embolden me to create." Children in particular are exceptionally inspiring, for they unabashedly spill their hearts contents, without conforming to any rigid standards. I think theirs is the kind of creativity in its purest and most beautiful form.

Dave King said...

I have always thought that after you have made all the necessary allowances for taste etc, there is something universal about the best.

I wasn't at all sure that I would become inspired by inspiration, but once I got in to it it worked for me.

Absolute agreement from me RE child art!

the watercats
Mmmm... I can see that.

Thanks for that Derrick. Yes, there is truth in what you say. ( I got in ealy, b y the way, because the world was no longer beating a path to my previous post!)

I very much like the way you put that - come to think of it, I usually do. You have a very original way with you. Keep close to it!

Thanks jim. The thought that occurs, though, is if you are stumped by your novel, though the idea is fine, is it not with the writing that you need the inspiration? We are all deficient in the writing skills (unless our name is Heaney or Pinter), hence the need for inspiration.

I know what you mean! Thanks for the good wish.

Much thanks.

Welcome to my blog. Thanks for the kind remarks and my good wishes to you also.

Many thanks for the comment and the thought that went into it. It's good to know you enjoy the blog. Getting to go to MoMA is one of my great unfulfilled ambitions.

Thanks for that.

Ah, I was inspired, perhaps?

Many thanks for that. Yes, I think you have put your finger on it exactly. It is the filters. If only we could lose them or by-pass them in some way!

Welcome indeed. Thanks for that. I keep thinking I should blog on MacDiarmid's poem, but it's like saying I ought to climb Mount Everest.

Palmer, Graham Sutherland and Ivon Hitchens are the three I continually go back to.

Yup, I think the Piper is a real beauty. Thanks for your kind comments.

If I do think of Masefield these day its in connection with On Dover Beach I welcome your comments . Thanks very much.

Welcome to my blog, and many thanks for taking the time to comment.

Your comments make me feel very humble indeed. Thank you so much for your kindness in making them.

The Weaver of Grass
No, thank you for setting the meme. It has proved more than worth while - one of the b est I have come across.

Yes I did have an after-thought about that: is one inspired to write a dud, or is it that we lose the inspiration somewhere along the way? Thanks for your thoughts.

Crafty Green Poet
Very many thanks.

Welcome to my blog and my thanks for taking the time out to comment. I do agree completely with what you write. Anything that sets you on the path to creativity is inspiration.

A Cuban In London said...

One of the reasons why I liked this post so much is that you touched upon one of the areas that we discuss regularly around the dinner table in my house: children's artistic skills. My wife is a creative dance teacher and I am a dance tutor and story-teller (although my 9-5 job is different). Two of my wife's brothers are fine painters in their own right and they are involved in children's art education, so your latest column was a delight to read. Because someone who is inspired by children's art is inspired by life itself, by the burgeoning power of life. Many, many years ago, when I still used to read sci-fi and Isaac Asimov was my regular companion, I came across a novel by a Cuban writer where she elaborated a hypothesis based on children's dreams. She mainly focused on pre-school children because they could not name objects, nor could they give objects a mathematical shape. As adults we like to think in squares, triangles and semicircles; what does a four-year old, who has yet to be confronted by this concept, think in? What elements are there in his/her brain that will give a definition to the object that faces him/her? That's why I loved your post. I could see those children's 'mad' (I'm using the word wisely here) designs confounding you and others. But whereas we, adults, tend to categorise that type of artistic endeavour, children don't, to them it is just 'stuff' that comes out of their brain. Have you ever seen an eight-year old (my daughter's age) engaged in creating a piece of art? The concentration, the motion, the thinking involved are unbelievable.

As for that line from Seamus Heany's poem, I must admit that I found it more touching than any of the longer poems I have been reading lately. It's thanks to your blog and to your promotion of Seamus's work that I have added his biography to my books' wishlist and I have already contacted my local library to see if they have any Heany in stock. Many thanks. This was a fine meme, one of the better ones I've read in a long time.

Greetings from London.

Conda Douglas said...

Dave--I too have always loved William Blake. I also like this meme as I found two new artists, Sutherland and Piper that I like. Thank you!

Dave King said...

A Cuban in London

Many thanks for your delightful comments. My story is that I came out of art school all those centuries ago and went to college intending to become an art teacher. That would have been in what was then a Secondary Modern or a Comprehensive school, either way teaching pupils 11 or 12 to 14 +. It was mandatory, though, to do a basic course in Primary (5 -11) Education, including a 6 week teaching practice. It was during this that I became captivated by the breadth and stimulation of teaching the younger children - and more expecially of their art - and I changed to Primary. After a few years teaching I switched to working with children with spevial needs. It was interesting to discover that though - in the main - the children I taught had great difficulty with abstract reasoning and form ing ab stract concepts, the standard of their art work was no different from that which I had found in normal(!) schools.

Your comments on the thought of young children recalls one of the more worrying aspects of my early years: the reliance placed by some on intelligence tests. Some of these could produce useful insights, but they were not mainly used that way. For example, an early question was (from memory): How is an orange like an apple. A typical answer would be: One is smooth, the other isn't. The ability to see difference precedes that of seeing similarities. I always thought this v ery characteristic of their art - that they painted differenc and thereby captured the character of their subject.

Enjoy your Heaney - I am sure you will - and thanks again.

There is a lot to explore - especially in the case of Sutherland. Have fun.

Tess Kincaid said...

How did I miss this wonderful inspiration post? I didn't realize you studied art. Now I must see some of your work. Please!

I noticed Kat mentioned "The Triplets of Belleville". Yes, I do believe you would like it.