Living Is Research For Artists: 10 Ways To Spark Inspiration Even During Quarantine

No matter what the situation, there are always ways to take something from life and turn it into art.
May 10, 2020
11 mins read

A few months ago, when in-person conversations were still allowed and we weren’t all on coronavirus lockdown, I was having coffee with a mentor of mine and she said, “For creative people, living is our research.” Those words stuck with me and got me thinking about the topic of inspiration and how artists and creatives find it.

It’s a tricky subject. Some people believe it just hits you when it hits you and some don’t believe in it at all. While I think being inspired to create is the most important ingredient in making art, I don’t think it’s some magical spirit that comes and goes as it pleases.

I like to believe that my personal work is the output of my thoughts, encounters, and emotions — inputs if you will — that really only come from experiencing life. Whenever I do anything, I assume I’m collecting little fragments of inspiration, little moments that will eventually give me something to say, leaving me no choice but to create.

Whether a person is a painter, writer, filmmaker, musician, photographer or any other creative spirit, I believe the innate desire is to make sense of the world around us and communicate that through art. Think about love songs; why are there so many of them? Probably because love is one of the most confusing, desired, universal feelings. Everybody feels it, and everybody wants to talk about it.

When my mentor equated living to research, it made perfect sense. Inspiration comes from discovering an aspect of the human experience, and art comes from sharing those discoveries. Whether it’s first love, heartbreak, humor, history, justice or any other facet of life, an artist will feel the need to document it in a new way.

When I first set out to write this article, I wanted to create a list of ways to experience life in a new way. I wanted to include traveling, talking to strangers, and a bunch of other activities that are no longer doable due to the new normal of social distancing. I still hope to write that article one day, but for now, I’ve re-worked the same premise while ensuring social distancing guidelines are still being followed.

Here is a list of 10 ways to experience life differently to spark inspiration when it feels like your creative tap has run dry, even in quarantine. Sometimes getting a little confused, trying something new or doing something uncomfortable is just the push you need to realize what you want to tell the world.

1. Try Netflix Roulette

Try out this website and watch the first thing it recommends, even if it’s only 20-30 minutes. I often find that watching something unexpected brings out random thoughts or memories. Watching a show or movie you wouldn’t normally pick might also educate you on a subject, theme or idea you hadn’t explored before.

 2. Do the opposite of your “normal” social media habits

Do you usually post all the time or are you someone who only goes on social media once a month? Whatever your normal is, try the opposite. Maybe post hourly updates on what you’re doing or try to keep off of your favorite apps for a whole day. It’s always interesting to record how it makes you feel and what you like or don’t like about the experiment; it can be really eye-opening to what you really value in your “normal” routine.

3. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while

Quarantine is the perfect time to call or text someone you’ve fallen out of touch with. Most people have a lot of free time on their hands now, and catching up with an old friend is a great way to pass time for both of you. Maybe they’ll say something unexpected or mention an event you’d forgotten about. It might also help you realize how much you miss them or don’t, and that there is an interesting topic to ponder in your work.

4. Go on a walk

This is probably the most cliché answer to the question of inspiration — but clichés are clichés because they stem from truth. Now more than ever, it’s important to breathe fresh air and step away from our homes for a little bit. To make it more interesting, try doing something unusual while walking. Maybe leave your phone at home, or count how many red objects you find. You could walk a different path every day or listen to music you don’t like while exploring. Anything you can do to help you look at the outside in a different way, and provide just the bit of inspiration that you need..

5. Take a whole day to do something that would normally only take an hour

We’re often told to be efficient and quick, just crossing things off the to-do list. Try taking a task you would normally finish quickly and see how it feels to spend the whole day with it. Maybe that means getting creative with how you spread it out or feeling uncomfortable with it weighing over your head all day. Maybe you find that slowing down makes you complete the task better or worse. Any feeling you have is valid, and it can be really insightful to ask yourself why it makes you feel the way it does.

6. Re-read your favorite childhood book

I love going back to things I loved when I was younger with all the knowledge I have about myself now. My favorite book growing up was “The Mysterious Benedict Society”; reading it now is such a different experience. I understand why I connected with certain characters so much now that I understand who I am now and what I value more. At the very least, it can be a fun trip down memory lane, reminding you what you cared about during the innocence of childhood.

7. Listen to an album all the way through without doing anything else

Music is rarely enjoyed completely on its own anymore. It’s almost always the background track to something else we’re doing: walking, cleaning, driving, studying. Thanks to Spotify and other streaming services, it’s also very easy to hit shuffle on an album or playlist without hearing songs in the order they were originally intended. Try listening to an album top to bottom without doing anything else. Does it tell a different story? Does it provide an insight into the artist you missed otherwise? Does it matter?

8. Did you ever fail a class or struggle to understand a concept? Spend the day teaching yourself that subject

An activity like this might make you really uncomfortable or annoyed; it might even seem like a chore. But, I think there’s something really humbling about trying again, starting over or approaching an old enemy in a new light. At the very least, you’ll learn about yourself and have an interesting story to share through your work

9. Keep a list of the interesting phrases you hear for the day

As a writer, I love words and phrases. Whenever I hear something that piques my interest I write it down even if I don’t know why I like it. Just keeping your ears open for a day can deliver really special material. I particularly love doing this with strangers, and while that’s not fully possible right now, there’s still a lot of ways to make this work. Listen critically to the TV, radio or friends/coworkers on video calls and write down what you find.

10. Spend the day in a different era

If you’re spending the whole day at home, try waking up in a different time. Maybe a pick a decade and live in it for the day. Only watch movies, listen to music or read books that would have been available in that time period. Bonus points if you dress in popular clothing or follow trends from that era as well.

If you finished this article thinking it was only a list of suggested activities to pass the time, you’re right. But doing anything is the key ingredient in creating. It’s the act of participating that causes us to find an idea we otherwise wouldn’t have. Being highly introspective while trying out these suggestions (and anything you do) is the key to inspiration. Go into everything you do with a net; you may be surprised what you can capture and bring home.

Katherine McLaughlin, The New School

Writer Profile

Katherine McLaughlin

The New School
Arts Communications

Katherine McLaughlin is a junior at The New School in NYC studying arts communications. When she’s not studying or writing she enjoys reading, watching rom-coms and drinking iced mochas.

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