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Lesson Plan: Finding Inspiration

“Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art” UMMA Teacher Workshop, March 22, 2014


Students will reflect on the nature of inspiration. They will consider how they are inspired, read about how other artists are inspired, and make an “inspiration” book, sketch, or file.


National Core Standards

  • Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work
  • Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art




Time Required

One class period



  • Image of Michele Oka Doner’s Drawing for Ancient Arb
  • Access to the internet, magazines
  • Notebooks
  • File folders


  1. Ask students what they picture when they imagine an artist receiving an idea for a painting, an opera, a play, a novel, a sculpture. Where do these ideas come from? How do they translate from ideas to paper/clay/notes? Do they imagine an idea striking an artist while she is gardening, while he is biking, or sitting still in an empty room?

  2. Emphasize the need for creativity and inspiration, especially in 21st century education. Sir Ken Robinson, in his TED talk, says, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy . . . I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity . . . We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.”

  3. Print the attached quotes about inspiration on cards. Read them aloud with students, and decide how to categorize them. Some artists advise, “ Listen to music,” others say, “Don’t listen to music.” You could place opposing viewpoints in different columns.

  4. Next, view Michele Oka Doner’s large sketch for the terrazzo floor at the Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. In an interview, she relates being inspired by nature, especially by the motifs and shapes found in Miami Beach, where she grew up.  In Ancient Arb, she “attempts to revive the ancient memories of the native land, restoring and reminding us of our relationship to nature (Natsu Oyobe, Curator for Asian Art).”

  5. Ask students to find evidence of Oka Doner’s inspiration in the sketch.  She has included various fossils and natural forms native to Ann Arbor, which were incorporated into the design for the terrazzo floor.

  6. Ask students to consider their inspiration.  As artists and authors, where do they find inspiration? Do they look to nature? Do they need quiet / noise? Does it change depending on the time of day? Allow time for them to reflect on their creative process. If time, allow students to print images or rip pages from magazines. Perhaps make a list of inspiring:

    a.      Things
    b.      People
    c.      Places
    d.     Events
    e.      Memories
    f.       Stories
    g.      Shapes
    h.     Sounds

  7. Students can keep these ideas in a notebook or file folder. They can begin a “someday” book of sketches, ideas, poems, or unfinished work.



From The Guardian:


Ideas are ghosts

“I used to think that being inspired was about sitting around and waiting for ideas to come to you. But generally, it’s not like that at all. I liken the process to seeing ghosts: the ideas are always there, half-formed. It’s about being in the right state of mind to take them and turn them into something that works” (Fyfe Dangerfield). “The subconscious part of myself creates far more interesting things than the conscious part can ever dream of” (Akram Khan).


Make it personal

“Make sure you are asking a question that is addressed both to the world around you and the world within you” (Rupert Goold). “Be brief, concise and direct. Anyone who over-complicates things is at best insecure and at worst stupid. Children speak the most sense and they haven’t read Nietzsche” (Polly Morgan).


Art is not life

              “Love the effect over its cause” (Rupert Goold). “Imagine the stage, not the location” (Lucy Prebble).


Seed crystals precipitate inspiration

“Fragments later act like trigger points” for lyrics / art. “The first draft is never your last draft” (Guy Garvey). “I seem to work best when my hands are occupied with something other than what I’m thinking about” (Polly Stenham). “Your creativity is like a tap: if you don’t use it, it gets clogged up” (Fyfe Dangerfield). “An idea is just a map” (Rupert Goold). “Questions often open the doors of the imagination” (Ian Rickson). “Things that motivate me include questions I can’t answer easily” (Jasmin Vardimon).


Failure is just another draft

“Don’t be scared of failure” (Guy Garvey). “If I hadn’t made the works I’m ashamed of, the ones I’m proud of wouldn’t exist” (Polly Morgan). “Try to create an atmosphere where people feel free to take risks. Fear can shut down creativity, as can the pressure to impress” (Ian Rickson). “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original” (Ken Robinson).


Upend your ideas

“Once there’s an idea, turn it upside down and take it seriously for a moment—even if it seems silly” (Sunand Prasad). “Collaborate: Go on a journey with someone who is as different to you as chalk and cheese” (Akram Khan).


Look at, watch, listen to other art(ists)

“There is so much to learn from them” (Tamara Rojo). “Every so often I see someone who inspires me to try something different” (Martha Wainwright). “Be as collaborative as possible. Other creative people are a resource that needs to be exploited” (Anthony Neilson). “Sometimes, too, I look at other artworks or films to get an idea of what not to do” (Isaac Julien). “Gather inquisitive and reflective people around you” (Sunand Prasad). Believing that a single person can be an artistic genius is like asking someone to swallow the sun” (Elizabeth Gilbert).


Hard work comes before inspiration

“Hard work comes in your years of training [drawing, stretching, singing, acting], That work is there to support your instinct and your ability to empathize” (Tamara Rojo). “Keep practicing scales” (Sunand Prasad). “Hard work isn’t always productive. Your brain needs periods of inactivity” (Polly Morgan).


Listen to music. Don’t listen to music

“I listen to music. It’s about occupying one part of your brain, so that the other part is clear to be creative” (Polly Stenham). “When you’re writing, you have to be very disciplined, find a space to work without any distractions” (Fyfe Dangerfield). “Listen to music to find a way into your project. Music is incredibly evocative” (Anthony Neilson). “I love silence. I can’t listen to music while I work and I need to be alone” (Susan Philipsz).


Inspiration and Creativity Bibliography


Books and Articles

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, “The Creativity Crisis,” Newsweek, filed 7/10/10,

Kevin Brown, “Interdisciplinary Course helps Students Tap into Creativity,” The University Record, April 15, 2013.

Olivia Gude, “Playing, Creativity, Possibility,” Art Education: Journal of the National Art Education Association, March 2010,

Ken Robinson, The Element, New York: Viking, 2009.

Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, NY: Scribner, 2012.


TED Talks

Elizabeth Gilbert, “Your elusive creative genius,”

Ken Robinson, “How schools kill creativity,”

Amy Tan, “Where does creativity hide?”


4 Tags & 0 Keywords

Creativity — by John Turner (October 6 2016 @ 11:34 am)
Inspiration — by John Turner (October 6 2016 @ 11:34 am)
Lesson — by John Turner (October 6 2016 @ 11:34 am)
Oka doner — by John Turner (October 6 2016 @ 11:34 am)

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