Chuck Close on Inspiration

Chuck Close on Inspiration

“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
– Chuck Close

Self-portrait 1997, oil on canvas.

Chuck Close is an American artist. He is a portrait painter, but that description is too pedestrian to describe his innovative work. Close takes portrait photographs of people but then reproduces those photographs on canvas adding geometric features to bring out the character of the person pictured. An example is one of his self-portraits to the left. His techniques are no mere gimmick, as evidenced by his photorealistic portrait paintings showing tremendous ability to capture real life.

The Pace Gallery page on Close.

Wikipedia article on Close.

The discussion of artistic technique is best left to others. As a philosopher, I want to talk about the importance of the idea he expressed in the quote above. A grand myth about art and artists is that creativity and artistic genius are some kind of rare mystic and mysterious forces. The myth holds that these mystical creative forces are possessed or channeled only by an elite few rarefied souls, chosen by fate to be creatives. Hogwash. Creativity and artistic expression are generated by humans. Humans are by nature creative. Some access their creativity more than others.

Another myth is that one must feel inspired to create something artistic and beautiful. Nonsense, Chuck Close says. Creativity is the result of hard work. He is not the only one who says that. It is wisdom known by many successful artists, writers, performers, and philosophers. (Yes, philosophers are creatives too. Well, the good ones at least.) For example, the author Jack London said: “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

A similar great wisdom is that showing up is half the battle. You show up and get the work done. That is how you become a success. Not every one has the natural “god-given” talent some people have, like Chuck Close. I cannot draw or paint for dren. But we all have our own unique talents. Our talents must be cultivated through hard work and practice. Waiting for inspiration or the perfect moment (that never comes) will not produce beautiful and wonderful creations. Only showing up and getting to work will do that.


“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try.” – Dr. Seuss


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