"Inspiration is the impact of a fact on a prepared mind" (Louis Pasteur).
For arts educators and all those concerned with fostering creativity, it seems reasonable to try to define inspiration. Yet, definitions of inspiration remain, well, uninspiring. Louis Pasteur's quote is a prelude into the intellectual rationalisation of inspiration; a "prepared mind" presumably suggesting that novel ideas never arrive from ""out of the blue"". This essay challenges psychological definitions, which render inspiration as an impassive cognitive process.
Before investigating the inspiration process according to psychology, it is interesting to note some earlier descriptions of the phenomenon. Socrates, for example, maintained that inspired thoughts originate with the gods, ideas coming not when a person is rational, but when someone is "beside himself". (Cave, 2000) The origin of the word itself, like Socrates definition, contrasts greatly with the rational explanations conveyed by contemporary psychology. Stating that the word inspiration evolved from the Latin term inspirare, "to breath into", David Perkins (2001) writes:.
"Inspiration means first and foremost an influx of insight breathed into a human being from the Gods." (Perkins, 2001, p. 179).
Evidently the early terminology suggests that inspiration was initially regarded as a divine influence on the mind. Inevitably such a notion does not sit well with modern psychology and this has resulted in a myriad of different theories, which seek to rationalise inspiration in terms of a cognitive process. What is generally agreed upon is that creative ideas don't just come from nowhere. The consensus is that innovative ideas result from internal mental processes that are a response to external experience and prior knowledge. (Sternberg, 1998) Many psychologists (Hadamard, Wallas, Olton, Simon) have categorised the creative process into phases such as preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.