State of the Arts 2012
Getting personal

How does art inspire you? Houston's arts leaders offer a collage of thoughts

Joel, state of the arts, part 1, collage, August 2012
Collage by Emily Goetz
Ars Lyrica, June 2012
Photo by Joel Luks
Jenni Rebecca Stephenson
Photo by Jeremy Keas
News_Joel Luks_slideshow_2_Anthony Brandt
Photo by Beryl Striewski
Alecia Lawyer, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra
Alexander's Fine Portraits
Gary Tinterow, MFAH, August 2012
Photo by F. Carter Smith
GONZO247, with mask
Courtesy Photo
Patrick Summers, Houston Grand Opera
Photo by Christian Steiner
Jonathon Glus, Houston Arts Alliance
Courtesy of Photo courtesy of Houston Arts Alliance
Cissy Segall Davis
Photo by Amber Chemam
J. Todd Frazier, with mic
Courtesy Photo

Asking about art can be akin to discussing politics or religion. Wars have been lost, friends have parted ways and an estranged lover has found him or herself relegated to sleeping on the couch after a heated argument. It's just that personal.

Art inspires passion. Art inspires action. Art inspires lives. 

But how, and just as important, why does it do that?

Whether serious, playful, nonsensical, quirky or altogether absurd, dissecting how art inspires isn't something you can ask casually.

But we did.

CultureMap reached out to major art leaders and art makers and probed for their innermost thoughts.

How does art inspire you?

In this photo essay — part one of two — they answer.

Great art stops us in our tracks. At best, it's both disorientating and irresistible.

— Matthew Dirst
Harpsichordist and Artistic Director, Ars Lyrica

Art is the realm of possibility.

As an artist, I've become a sly gypsy in Seville, a corrupt Danish queen, and a secret Victorian pornographer. I've danced with Nutcrackers and mice, interpreted the sounds of Islamic architecture on the piano, and written new characters and fantastical worlds into existence. 

Yet I find art most inspiring when it unlocks the possibilities within others — whether it be discovering a hidden talent or passion or prompting a new way of thinking about a difficult issue.

Art unlocks doors every day.

— Jenni Rebecca Stephenson
Executive Director, Fresh Arts

The biologist E.O. Wilson has written that evolution is a maze without a determined goal: Species hit dead ends, back-track, go extinct. In the evolutionary model, human beings are not an anticipated endpoint. Rather, we are an extraordinary outcome, a miracle of nature: In making us, evolution produced both a social animal — and, to an extent unseen anywhere else in nature, a creative one.

Without an almost unimaginable sequence of circumstances, we might never have come to be. Yet here we are — each of us born with an imagination more fertile and tireless than any other creature.

The arts inspire me because they are a focused, undiluted look at that unique essence of our make-up. What we see or hear in a painting, piece of music, poem, story, film or dance is the recognition of what we all have inside ourselves.

— Anthony K. Brandt
Professor, Shepherd School of Music, and Co-Founder and Artistic Director, Musiqa Houston

Great art of any form or discipline takes my breath away or allows me to breathe deeper or or has me gasp or produces a good hearty laugh of appreciation.

Music, for me, is the groanings of the Spirit, the beginning and ending of breath. I am most deeply inspired when I feel and hear and see us mere humans use our language of art to reveal and connect to God.

— Alecia Lawyer
Principal Oboist and Founder, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra

At a museum like the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, we see that, across the ages, the impulse toward beauty, the expression of love, the longing for connection with higher authority and lost ancestors, the transience of life, the pain of loss, have been experienced for millennia on every corner of the earth and recorded by artists and craftsmen.

— Gary Tinterow
Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Art inspires me to ask questions and challenge the status quo. It opens doors to new ways of seeing the world and encourages us to speak out, to reach out, and to connect with each other. I am passionate about art that happens out of context, reaching new audiences and breaking out of the "ivory tower" so often associated with art. Art is culture and culture is everywhere.

— Karen Farber
Director, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts

Art is like a crazy mathematical equation with infinite solutions because every creation is so unique and in the art world, 2 + 2 can equal 247.

It gives me the ability to manifest an idea or a thought. It inspires me to continue creating and challenging myself as an artist.

— GONZO247
Aerosol Warfare Studios

Art is inspiring because it can provide us with imaginative links to parts of ourselves which might otherwise be inaccessible. All serious art, art which has content under its surface, is nothing more or less than a reflective impression of the soul who experiences it.

This is why familiar works change over our lives, and why artistic curiosity can create empathy: because art transforms us, on our own time and in our individual terms, by being fully itself.

— Patrick Summers
Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director

Art is at its best transformational for the individual and inspiring in community.

— Jonathon Glus
Chief Executive Officer, Houston Arts Alliance

The visual and performing arts fill me with a sense of wonder and absolute awe of the creativity and abilities of the individual artist . . . painter, sculptor, singer, dancer, actor . . . each has been blessed with an extraordinary gift of which we are the beneficiaries. I admire their vision, skill and execution and desire to express themselves . . . often in the face of unfathomable obstacles.

I am further inspired by the sense of one-ness that the arts create . . . cultural, religious, ethnic, age and socioeconomic barriers disappear as people of widely different backgrounds and circumstances come together to experience a live performance or view a masterpiece.

In our collective experience, we become one. We ARE the world . . .  

— Cissy Segall Davis
Miller Outdoor Theatre Managing Director

"Reflection, inspiration, creativity, innovation . . . the art of living."

— J. Todd Frazier
Program Director, The Methodist Hospital Center for Performing Arts Medicine