Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Accepting Influences

For my part I have never avoided the influence of others. I would have considered it cowardice and lack of sincerity toward myself. I believe that the artist’s personality affirms itself by the struggle he has survived. One would have to be very foolish not to notice the direction in which others work. I am amazed that some people can be so lacking in anxiety as to imagine that they have grasped the truth of their art on the first try. I have accepted influences but I think I have always known how to dominate them. Henri Matisse

Why does it seem that having your art called derivative is so much worse than just about any other criticism?

What are your influences? How consciously do you seek to dominate or resist them? Diebenkorn looked to Matisse, Matisse borrowed to buy works of Rodin, Gauguin and Cezanne, and everyone had an eye on Picasso, so what am I so worried about? I suppose they all became confident that at some point, they would so fully digest or push against their influences that obvious imitation would never be an issue.

My former teacher at Otis was emphatic about the need to constantly feed our minds images. This was a relief because I always felt I was starting with a completely blank mind. In addition to photos we took ourselves, he practically demanded that we start tearing out pages of magazines to build an image file we could use later when looking for a certain color we didn't know we wanted until we needed it, or an idea for a texture, or some area of visual complexity, like a picture of mitochondria or something that would help with an abstract background.

Here's Ferry Crossing, a diptych I painted last year when I was reading a lot about Diebenkorn:


  1. 6:26 AM! You must have a houseful of kids or something....

  2. There's a great Harold Bloom book about this subject, called "The Anxiety of Influence." His argument, basically: that every great artist is influenced by the great artists of the previous generation mostly by virtue of the fact that he/she reacts against the influence.

    I like Picasso's line on influence, too: "All art is theft."

  3. My dad's theory was that there were only three songs ever written, and everything else was variation on a theme. I want as much "outside" influence as possible. The way it's synthesized through your brain is what makes it yours...