Back in the day, when I was doing a lot of paper and digital collage work, people would often ask questions like “What inspired this?” or “How do you know where to start?” I never had a good answer for these kinds of questions, because the truth was that I didn’t start anywhere in particular. I started with a scrap of something, and let it guide me to the next piece. Very little method to the madness.
Though I was often happy with the results, sometimes I felt like I was doing some kind of “fake” art. Real artists are inspired from the start, not noodlers, I thought. I appreciate this quote from film critic Roger Ebert: “The muse never shows up at the beginning.” You have to start doing something and trust the muse will follow, not the other way ’round.” On the other hand, total freedom isn’t necessarily a good thing for the artist either. Federico Fellini:
“I don’t believe in total freedom for the artist. Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all. If there’s one thing that’s dangerous for an artist, it’s precisely this question of total freedom, waiting for inspiration and all the rest of it.”
There’s got to be a germ of something at the beginning, and artists use various techniques to find that seed, to make the muse come to them. For me, that technique often amounted to finding a particular scrap of paper that told the beginning of a visual story, or two pieces of paper that fit together in some unexpected and synergetic way. Sometimes the hardest part was trying to get that initial spark to take light. Once it happened, often the whole collage would fall into place, almost build itself.
Man, I miss that feeling.