Artists of Whidbey Island || The I’s of Art: Inspiration, Idea, Imagination

Posted in Feature, More Stories, Visual Art

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
June 29, 2016

Imagine looking over David Ossman’s shoulder at the image fragments he’s gathered in the creation of a new collage.

You see, on his desk a seemingly random assortment of small pieces of paper—scattered colored prints from years past, selected for content, color, line, size and meaning. Assembling the pieces, with scissors and glue close at hand, he examines each of them, positioning them in relation to both a foundational image and other selected fragments, placed or still loose.

You wonder: what’s the idea?

Looking over David Ossman’s shoulder inspires wonder.

Looking over David Ossman’s shoulder inspires wonder.

Considering concepts of artistic vision and the origin of ideas is challenging, to say the least. It’s simple to say anything or everything can prompt an idea. We all experience new ideas. We are, after all, thinking beings. Engineers, mathematicians, scientists—typically inclined toward empirical solutions rather than artistic expression—will generate ideas that match their personal inclinations.

So where do artists’ ideas come from?

How do artists dream up the work we see in exhibits or online? Are they the overflow of an active subconscious or the result of conscious intent? Could they be inspired realizations or the happy accidents of engaging in the creative process?

In Ossman’s basement studio, every surface is covered with evidence of a life in the performing and visual arts. A founding member of the iconic “Firesign Theater” group, Ossman is a writer, poet, performer and visual artist. His studio space is filled with memorabilia and oddities. LP albums and books are crammed onto shelves along with collections of marketing toys. 1960s posters and signed black and white photographs of 20th century film celebrities (elegantly framed) are a background for bobble-head Beatles. Is it out of this visually rich environment that he draws inspiration, or from a deeper, richer source than his environment reveals?

David Ossman working in his creatively rich environment.

David Ossman working in his creatively rich environment.

American artist Chuck Close dismisses the idea of inspiration as waiting for lightning to strike. He believes that only by engaging in work will ideas be abundant and materialize from the process.

However, I like the idea of a ‘spark’ of inspiration to light the imagination. The ancient Greeks called upon the Muses for inspiration. Interestingly, there was no muse for painters, sculptors or architects. Music, dance, theater, literature and poetry have their respective muses, but visual artists, artisans, and architects appealed to Athena for divine guidance.

Cary Jurriaans’ painting methods are inspired by Dutch masters.

Cary Jurriaans’ painting methods are inspired by Dutch masters.

Cary Jurriaans’ mastery of traditional painting methods is rooted in the application of classical western European aesthetics and motifs. For her, the ideals of western art serve to inspire and inform her clear and carefully rendered paintings. From the application of traditional compositional and perspective techniques to a skillful rendering of light and atmosphere, Jurriaans’ work is a study in the methods of classic oil painting traditions.

Alternatively, artists may clear their minds and let the form take shape through a simple implementation of skills and intent. For example, ceramicist Al Tennant has adopted the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi as his inspiration and guiding artistic principle—abandoning traditional ideas of perfection for an appreciation that results from an object’s imperfection and embracing the impermanent nature of existence. Tennant’s wood-fired vessels and sculptural forms reflect his preference for the simplicity and honesty of unrefined stoneware.

Al Tennant constructs his ceramic pieces following wabi-sabi sensibilities.

Al Tennant constructs his ceramic pieces following wabi-sabi sensibilities.

Whether ideas are inspired by studio environments, semi-divine muses, western traditions, eastern philosophy or “all of the above,” concepts are massaged in the imagination until an idea is applied to the artist’s chosen medium. Ultimately, the creative process prompts the artist to develop art that best expresses the original idea. And that work often becomes an inspiration for further ideas.

For more images of David Ossman, Cary Jurriaans, Al Tennant and all of the participants in “The Artists of Whidbey Island” series, go to

Don Wodjenski, is an artist, photographer, teacher and musician living in Coupeville. Recently retired after 20 years as an Arts instructor with South Whidbey Schools, he remains active in the Whidbey arts community. Although, never without an opinion on art and culture, he is new to blogging.


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