Inspiration and Nature

There are numerous theories of creativity in the arts, ranging from the antique fascination of a composer or painter receiving their creative sustenance directly from God, to the far more contemporary notion of an artist-craftsperson, who creates through applied techniques of trial and error in sketchbooks and on canvases. Whichever notion you choose to believe, the next step in the creative process is shared by all approaches – the physical gesture which creates the first mark of pen on paper, that first note played on the keyboard, or preliminary finger-marks in the clay. This embodiment of the creative idea is universal, suggesting that, at some level, all creativity stems from the day-to-day physicality of world.

Such a notion of creative physicality appears throughout philosophy in the twentieth-century, but is perhaps most prominent in the writings of Martin Heidegger. In a world shaken to the core by wars, hatred and violence, Heidegger returned to key notions of worldliness, deeply imbued with expressions of earthly wholesomeness and images of the Volk. To Heidegger, art is an almighty mediator between the Earth – a background to our lives, unintelligible and majestic – and the more immediate world around us of community, family, etc. The first gesture of the artist in all its physicality is so much more than a mark on a page: it is an opening up of the Earth around us, an unlocking and un-concealing of the secrets that nature has hidden.

This duty of an artist to unlock the world in every artwork is, to say the least, a challenge! The Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser reminds us that the only way to understand the Earth, and in turn to help reveal its secrets, is to encounter it. “The encounter must last,” he writes, “in order to then become the basis for meaning.” But how can we, in a modern world, thoroughly transformed by the industrial changes of the twentieth-century, ever encounter the Earth as it was – untainted by mankind?

I’ve been interested in this relationship between nature and art for a while now, whether it’s music describing the rich hues of a beautiful sunset, the frantic ordered movement of gas particles or the natural resonating properties of musical bodies. Important questions raise their head, like how can we represent the natural in art? What does natural inspiration offer in a contemporary society, a million miles away from the bucolic landscape paintings and wandering poetic scenes of the 19th century? In a world where technology and politics are becoming increasingly concerning (especially Trump’s recent threats of nuclear retaliation), both art and nature offer us a place to reflect on what it really means to inhabit the world and indeed to be human. Alongside this post, I have made a playlist of some of my favourite pieces of music inspired by nature, ranging from the rapturous to the scientific.

Art is, at its heart, a deeply collaborative process where meaning only arises from the encounters these works have our lives. I hope some of these pieces have the power to make us stop, take a moment out of the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, and reconnect with the world around us.