Here’s an idea: Think about ideas. Where do they come from? Is an idea the same thing as inspiration? How do you even get an idea?
Filmmaker Andrew Norton explores this endless abyss of abstraction in his short Where Do Ideas Come From? Visuals and text anchor voice-overs from creatives like author Susan Orlean, artist Chuck Close, and director David Lynch, thinking out loud about the idea of ideas. Below are some of the best nuggets of knowledge, but the whole video is definitely worth a watch.
David Lynch, director: “I get ideas in fragments. It’s as if in the other room there’s a puzzle–all the pieces are together. But in my room, they just flip one piece at a time into me.”
Robert Krulwich, co-host of Radiolab: “I don’t think that inspiration is a starting point. Maybe I’m a little suspicious of the idea. Like, in the beginning, there was nothing and then there was light. I don’t think I’ve had that experience. And for other people who said that they’ve had that experience I’m not sure I believe them. The thing that gets you going feels like an itch to me. It’s itch, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, wonder, got it! I didn’t hear inspiration in there.”
Chuck Close, artist: “I always said inspiration is for amateurs–the rest of us just show up and get to work. Every great idea came out of work. Everything. If you sit around and wait for a bolt of lightning to hit you in the skull, you may never get a good idea.”
Tracy Clayton, co-host of Another Round: “I think for me it’s mostly lightning bolts. I think that my brain is just such a vast landscape of just completely random stuff–unless it, like, grabs my attention, I’ll never see it. I can brainstorm and I can outline and I can sort of ready the room for the idea to make its entrance but until the idea is ready to reveal itself, I’ll just be sitting there.”
Ray Barbee, professional skateboarder: “Everything that has driven me to do what I’m doing is because I’ve seen other people do it. Most people start off by mimicking something but then it turns into their own thing because they don’t really have the ability to mimic it precisely. But what’s great about that approach is it can lead to originality from copying. Like, we just have our own fingerprint. And so in the process, it turns into a different idea.”
Lulu Miller, co-host of Invisibilia: “Inspiration is a little sucker punch to the brain. It’s a slap in the face. It’s a punch to the gut. It’s a waking up. It’s realizing the world has more majesty and mystery than your stupid little brain ever knew. My job as a storyteller is to showcase that wonder, to put it on a pedestal, and hopefully recreate it in such a way that the person reading or listening or watching can feel it too.”
Susan Orlean, author: “Whenever I finish a story, I go through a period of time where I feel like I will never again have an idea. I simply will never again come up with a notion that feels original and exciting and inspires curiosity. And I think the analogy to falling in love is really apt because most people, if they have a relationship and they just cannot imagine a situation where they would ever feel that way again, and then one day you fall onto something and it just looks you in the face and says I’m the one.”