how to see our influences - pt. I

3 min read, 638 words


Artists need to see our influences. We copy, combine, and transform all our influences into a mosaic to produce our own work. We integrate these influences over time into our own craft and our own visions. This is how we find our voice. It’s the occult science, the blessed mess, the damned miracle of art.

First and foremost, we are influenced by our lives. Our traumas and triumphs— the moments, images, words, or feelings, from our lives that made a difference in who we are. You’re an artist because you have a desire to mold these into a piece of work. But that step in the process where you want to express a thing but don’t yet know how to— that is when you have a vision.

One of my influences is Paul Thomas Anderson, and his film Magnolia (1999) is always in my list of Top 3 Films. In describing his creative process, P.T. says he “makes lists.” He sorts the list out later, that’s his job as a writer. But first he makes lists of images, lines of dialog, and moments of a story he’d like to tell #Outline. The first image that came to him for Magnolia, the first thing he wrote down on his list, is the last image of the film. A smile, from Claudia, in direct address, after all she’s been through, and all she’s risked, when she's finally found the strength to receive kindness. Before P.T. knew how he’d write the film or direct the film or finance the film— he had this vision. This moment meant something to him. Where it came from in his life, we may never know— but what he expressed to us in Magnolia is his best attempt to tell us.

So while it helps to be influenced by other art in our lives, our creative process relies foremost on our ability to self reflect. Our first influence is our life. And our art depends on an ability to channel our traumas and triumphs into work. There is an artist in all of us. But not all of us are able to reach for it. Some of us lack the experience of introspection and the practice of vulnerability. These can only be gained by sitting with ourselves, discovering the traumas and triumphs, reflecting on them, and somehow finding the courage to show them to the world. This is what Ernest Hemingway meant when he said: “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

My traumas and triumphs are present in all my best work— they are my visions transfigured. My broken home, my broken hearts, my self loathing, my illnesses, my need to protect those around me, my belief in making peace, my empathy for lost children, my awe of the beauty of art and artists in our world. I can only see how critical this is now. On the other side of completing dozens of pieces of work. But how did I do that before I knew how to? How did I get to the end so many times? With time and healing, I found my own courage, asked for help, forgave myself for false starts, borrowed audacity and tools from the artists I admire, and learned that sipping tea in my slippers early in the morning helps me be bold. Because I wanted my visions to become more.

Whether you’re a master or a budding artist, when something feels daring to feel— express it in raw form. #GetItOut privately. This is your vision. It matters. It matters so much. And if you do that enough times, one of these days, maybe one morning, when you’re a little sleepy, the courage will strike you: the courage to build your vision into a palace.

// David



3 elements to embrace your artistic visions

  1. A vision is an instinct to tell the world about your traumas or triumphs, before you know how to.

  2. Practicing introspection and vulnerability are the key. This is hard. Ask for help.

  3. Express your daring visions in raw form as often as you can. False starts are early drafts of your first drafts.


  • ❓How do you take the leap from vision ➡ first draft in your work? 

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  • 🔊 ADD SONGS to this “Narrative Songs Playlist” — A Collaborative Playlist on Spotify that you can ADD TO now! I want to collect songs from any music genre that are very narrative and tell a story that develops in each verse. There’s a few songs in here I love already— but I want to gather all of ours.