Thursday, July 10, 2008

From A to B and C and D

Despite the somewhat ominous skull above, today I'd like to say a few words about inspiration. In particular, the curious byways and circuitous routes that our sources of inspiration, whatever they may be, end up taking us.

I have a background in English Renaissance Literature, and I personally often find inspiration in favorite bits of poetry. The following is one of my favorite songs from Shakespeare:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! Now I hear them – Ding-dong, bell.

Okay, the topic is perhaps not the most cheerful, being the imagined death by drowning of the hero's father in "The Tempest". However, I find the "rich and strange" language of the song to be completely compelling. I've tried several times to create a necklace based on this song, and each time has been a complete failure, in the sense that I never really succeeded in embodying the actual song in my piece. However, in each case, I created something that I really liked, even if it had nothing to do with "The Tempest". This is very typical of my experience with inspiration - I never quite know where I will end up when I am inspired by something, but the journey and end result are usually well-worth the effort. In this case, my first attempt at creating a necklace based on "Full fathom five" resulted in this pendant:

I liked the nautical feel of the pendant (the cool ceramic shell beads are by Earthenwood Studio, and I set them with coral and pearl in a fine silver bezel), but it seemed far too sunny and cheerful for the verse that it was intended to represent. I revised my plan at that point and ended up creating a day-at-the-beach themed piece, instead. (Incidentally, you can see the full necklace in the July 2008 issue of Beadstyle Magazine.) My second attempt to create the necklace resulted in these cartoony skully beads:

The skull design seemed a little closer to the theme in the song, but, ultimately, they made their way into this necklace, instead:

It's still based on Shakespeare, but "Macbeth", not "The Tempest." However, it's one of my favorite quotes from "Macbeth", so I couldn't be too upset at this turn of events. (There is certainly plenty of good verse from Shakespeare to go around, in my humble opinion.)

So I gave up on the project at that point, jotted a few notes in my ideas book and moved on to other things. Last month, I thought, heck, why not try it again? At an opportune moment, when the Short One was occupied with his blocks, I took a scrap sheet of paper and drew these:

(Okay, I really debated showing this to you, as it demonstrates how truly untalented I am with a pen, but there you go. I've numbered each version to illuminate what I laughingly refer to as my "process". After deciding that the SO could have done a better job than attempts Nos. 1 and 2, I hauled out every photo of a skull I could find before trying again. I'm reasonably satisfied with the end image, but if you say "What skull?", I will be terribly, terribly depressed. I'm just warning you.) The skulls turned out okay, but, hey, what's that coin-like thingy in the left hand corner with the weird Latin and Greek inscriptions?

This time, the skull design for some reason reminded me of Charon and the River Styx. With that old Chris de Burgh song, "Don't Pay the Ferryman", playing over and over in my head, I decided that the skull would be best used as part of the design for a ferryman's guerdon. For anyone not familiar with the mythology, in order to cross the River Styx and enter into Hades, the newly dead had to pay Charon, the ferryman, a coin. In fact, in accordance with the mythology, it was customary for many years to cover a dead person's eyes with Greek obolos coins or to put one in his or her mouth, in order that the person's soul would be able to pay the entry fee into Hades. So, once again, I tossed aside "Full fathom five" and started thinking more about creating a memento mori based on a coin design.

So my whole point in this long ramble is basically that the path down which your inspiration leads you may not necessarily be a straight and narrow one and that you should be open to the sheer mutability of inspiration when developing new work. I am a firm believer in "happy accidents", but I also believe that sometimes the trick is to recognize one when you see it. For myself, I think I could've easily become frustrated (and actually did become frustrated at several points) that none of the designs I created ended up being appropriate for the verse I used as my original source of inspiration. However, ultimately, I think each piece ends up standing on its own well enough, even if none of them actually embody that song from "The Tempest" that I love so much.

Oh, and I did create several hand-stamped pendants based on the ferryman's guerdon idea. Here's one of them (and the only one stamped in English):

It's not from "The Tempest", but anyone who knows their "Hamlet" will realize that this is a reference to, alas, poor Yorick, the court fool whom Hamlet knew and whose skull Hamlet dug up torwards the end of the play. I like the idea of a skull being "a fellow of infinite jest", and it seems quite appropriate for a memento mori, which loosely translates as "a reminder of one's mortality" (in this case, the infinite jest suggests, to me, that regardless of station, we all come to the same end). If you are interested in seeing any of the other versions of the pendant, I will post them next week - possibly with a long, and probably boring exposition on memento mori. Everyone needs something to look forward to, eh?

Thanks for stopping by.


Cyndi L said...

I've been gaining a lot of inspiration from our recent trip to Italy, looking at all the paintings and sculptures :-) By the way, "Something Wicked" is my very favorite of the pieces that you shared on your artist profile back in April!

Melissa J. Lee said...

Hi Cyndi,
I'm not surprised to hear that you've been inspired by your recent trip! I loved the photos you put up of your visit to the glass factory, by the way. I'm glad you like the "Something Wicked" necklace - I think I'm in the mood for skulls these days because I'm already looking towards Halloween!