Every expression that appeals to man’s highest ideals is a source of inspiration. It is the quick route that bridges a man’s emotions to his thoughts and reveals his innermost soul through his responses. The importance of inspiration for human life is based on the nature, role, and needs of human consciousness. It is fuel for his soul.
One man is inspired by looking at the skyscrapers and another by the open spaces and
yet another by the Grand Canyon. If looking at the majestic creations of men inspires one man, another is inspired by looking at the untamed nature and by thinking what he could do with it.
What does it take for a man to find inspiration? Why is it that what may inspire one to ever higher heights leaves another indifferent?
Inspiration is the quick route that bridges a man’s emotions to his experiences and reveals his innermost soul through his responses. It is a lightning-like, spontaneous process resulting from the subconscious mind’s reaction to man’s experiences and as such it gives a revealing snapshot of all the thoughts, values, and emotions an individual has accumulated in the course of his life. Any experience that appeals to the contents of man’s mind and soul elicits a response of inspiration.
The importance of inspiration for human life is based on the nature, role, and needs of human consciousness. In addition to understanding the requirements of his survival in abstract form, man also needs to perceive them in concrete terms. By observing the real-life manifestations of his ideas, he realizes first-hand that success and happiness are possible. Not only is this experience a source of happiness and thus an end in itself, but it also gives him the energy and emotional fuel he needs to pursue and realize his values, thus furthering his survival.
It is no coincidence that the foremost source of inspiration is art. The very role of art is to concretize man’s metaphysical values. By virtue of his ideas, a rational man admires majesty and grandeur, the glory of man emerging triumphant over nature, the radiant image of man the creator, man the conqueror, man the hero. This is precisely the image conveyed by the works of the greatest artists in the history of humanity, which provide the rational man with priceless emotional fuel and the fervent desire to measure up to the example of his artistic archetypes.
You can tell a lot about a man’s soul from his reaction to the novels of Ayn Rand and Victor Hugo, the statues of Phidias, Praxiteles and Michelangelo, the paintings of Da Vinci, Rafael, and Rembrandt, and the music of Mozart, Rossini, and Bellini. The man who cherishes his humanity and aspires to realize his potential, the only being who deserves to be called human in the true sense of the term reacts with awe, ecstasy, and rapture. The sights and sounds of great art excite his spirit and elevate his soul, creating in him the realization that he lives in a universe he is proud to call his own, a great man living in a grand world, at peace with himself and existence. This experience conveys the meaning of the maxim that art portrays the world as it might be and ought to be.
Of course, other cultural expressions can also be sources of inspiration. Science is the most obvious instance of man conquering nature, which is why scientific achievements provide great nourishment for the rational mind. The skyline of New York and other big cities is a concrete embodiment of human creativity and as such expresses the best in man. All the technological achievements of our time from medicine to computers and from the exploration of space to nuclear science provide evidence of grandeur that elevates the spirit of the rational man.
The same is true for philosophy that upholds the power of reason and glorifies man like the ideas of Aristotle, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Ayn Rand. Athletic achievement is another important source of inspiration, which is why athletes of the stature of Babe Ruth rank among humanity’s greatest heroes. Every expression that appeals to man’s highest ideals is a fountainhead of inspiration.
When a rational man is inspired by nature, this is because to him it represents an untapped human potential. Nature is the domain where man’s creative ability is applied and his heroic potential realized. While in man-made objects the source of inspiration is the actual, in nature man is inspired by the potential. Empty spaces can be filled with orchards, factories, shopping malls, art museums, laboratories, and other monuments of human civilization.
Since nature provides the resources man uses to create his civilization and advance his life, it is like a blank canvas and the palette of a painter or a block of marble to be molded by a sculptor. It inspires him to use his imagination like a paintbrush or chisel and shape the world in the image of his vision. To a creator, untamed nature is a challenge to subjugate it to his purposes.
Just as various men apply their abilities and energies to different areas of endeavor, they also respond to different sources of inspiration. Others have a greater response to art, others to science, others to sports, and still others to the potential offered by nature. An artist finds his greatest inspiration in the majesty of an exquisitely sculpted human body, an architect in grand buildings or open spaces where he could build, an explorer in steep mountains or inhospitable terrain that he could conquer. Like every other aspect of human behavior, there are several options with respect to inspiration.
Of course, this does not mean that inspiration is a subjective phenomenon, far from it. Although it can have many different sources, inspiration arises from the application of general facts about human nature to the particular context of every individual. This is analogous to man having several options in his choice of career, friends, leisure time activities, and other values, yet those activities are not subjective, but governed by objective standards. This explains why Ayn Rand was inspired by the New York skyline when other people can only see the dirt and the noise and why Amundsen was inspired by the challenge of conquering the elements and reaching the South Pole while others view the Antarctic merely as a vast stretch of dreadful nothingness.
All of man’s actions and behaviors are motivated by the same fundamental cause, the requirements of his survival. At every moment man has to act to sustain his life. The reason why he should think, be honest, just, productive, and show integrity is because those qualities are mandated by the requirements of his survival. The same is true with inspiration. To successfully pursue and realize his values man needs to be spurred to decisive action by the spark generated by the concrete image of those values. Man is inspired by certain experiences precisely because this emotional reaction is essential to his survival.
This is why and how the requirements of man’s survival qua man shape the kind of experiences that inspire him. Reason, success, harmony, achievement, and grandeur are qualities required to sustain human life, which is precisely why observing their manifestations inspires the rational man. Thus, while various men are inspired by different experiences, these experiences need to demonstrate those characteristics in order to serve as sources of inspiration. In contrast, qualities that negate the requirements of human survival, such as irrationality, confusion, failure, and mediocrity, do not inspire the rational man, but are instead sources of revulsion.
It is a sad commentary on our time that the rational man has to turn to the past in his quest for artistic inspiration. Acting as a barometer for present-day culture, modern “art” is perverse and grotesque and as such it invokes feelings of contempt and loathing rather than inspiration. In contrast, the glorious eras of Ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment produced art that reflected the ideas prevailing in those periods, which is why it worshipped and glorified instead of denigrating and demeaning man. It is such art that invokes in man a feeling of exaltation and the sheer joy of being alive.
Music, my own foremost source of inspiration, occupies a special place in this context. Contrary to the visual arts, music has an immediate impact on the soul by directly touching man’s emotions without any intervention by the conscious mind. Music reached its peak in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century with giants like Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti, masters who created with the sound of their music the harmony and grandeur achieved on canvas and in marble by Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Having been weaned on the classical tradition, I seek my greatest inspiration in the instrumental music of the eighteenth century and operas composed in the first half of the nineteenth century. This is an instance where I am old-fashioned and proud of it. For me nothing can match the inspiration of a Mozart symphony or a Rossini opera. As the orchestra plays the crescendo that culminates in the grand finale and as the singer’s voice rises towards the high note that underscores the majesty of an aria, I am on the top of Mt. Olympus, reveling in ambrosia and nectar and breathing the pristine air reserved for the immortals of the Olympian pantheon. This is true heaven. Amen!