The Eleventh Idea


Swirling blurred colors in a giant slice of petrified wood. A music-making sculpture of Rube Goldberg proportions. Esoteric collections of Pez dispensers, autographed baseballs, and butterflies. Mathematical formulas brought to life in 3D models (so that people like me might have a shot at understanding them.) The frenzy of being inside a tornado. All of this and more filled my senses yesterday at the Museum of Science in Boston.

The petrified wood looked like the surface of a modernist painting. I am tempted to try to replicate the painting style of Mother Nature! Inspiration happens when we are open to taking in all that we can with all of our senses. We do not have to have a fully formed idea when we sit down to work. If I bounce off of this idea of petrified wood, I can go a thousand directions with it. I can work with the idea of something ephemeral (a tree in this case) being transformed into something permanent. I can experiment with the blending of colors that I see in the wood. I can work with the larger concept of what it means to be petrified or I can try to replicate the wood. Then I can start bouncing off ideas about areas in my life where I feel petrified. What does that feel and look like? Is it possible to reverse the process? Does being stagnant lead to petrification? As you can see, there are many directions I can go from the starting point of seeing something that inspires me.

When I was in art school, I had a drawing teacher who gave me an excellent piece of advice. Whenever he gave an assignment, he told us to immediately write down our first ten ideas. And then throw them away. Start with your eleventh idea. I think about this all the time. It helps me to avoid the obvious solution to a creative problem and I think it enriches the work. Sources of inspiration are all around us. It can come from a trip to museum but it can also be found in the pattern at the bottom of your tea cup. Open yourself to the flood of inspiration and get started on that eleventh idea.

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