how to see our influences - pt. II

This is Part II of III in a series on Influences, see Part I HERE.

3 min read, 565 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.

In addition to our own traumas and triumphs, we are also influenced by the art we absorb in our lives. Visions from artists in every medium. The work that speaks to us, that disappoints us, that disturbs us, feels familiar to us, that astounds us. If you’re a filmmaker, you’re conscious that you’re influenced by films you’ve seen. But if you’re not aware that you’re also influenced by fashion and architecture and painting and movement and music… well, iydknyk. Art from outside our discipline can be some of our greatest teachers.

Early on we’re drawn to emulating artists in our discipline because we can borrow their craft and style. The “how to” of our craft is the biggest challenge when you’re starting out. But as we mature as artists, we get more comfortable with our craft and start searching for our own voice. At this point our influences become less about process and more about content. We become free to integrate aesthetics, opinions, and themese from art in other disciplines.

In 2011, I had to be convinced to go to a fashion exhibit at the Met. I wanted to understand this art form. I wanted to respect it. But for the life of me I did not understand the art of fashion. I dress in 99.9% Banana Republic. What’s the canvas? What tools do you use? Do I process the work on the rack, on the runway, on my body? I wanted to hear the designer’s intentions but I never could before.

As I walked through ‘Savage Beauty’ by Alexander McQueen I stared in awe at an exhibit filled with clothing, costume, and video from fashion shows. It washed over me. And I recognized it— this is all story. I don't know the language but I can feel the stories of human beings being told.

In Romantic Gothic I saw men and women brooding through ghost stories that reflected the infirmities of their Victorian bodies.

In Highland Rape I saw women who’d survived violence to their bodies standing up, struggling, and yearning to speak.

In Plato’s Atlantis I saw an angelic aquatic tribe enduring a post apocalyptic world and finding hope by adapting their bodies to survive.

Being influenced by McQueen’s art that day confirmed something I’d hoped for a long time— that all art forms are linked. All art is the story of the subject, the story of the performer, the story of the creator transformed into a piece for us to receive.

When I left the exhibit I had an epiphany about my influences. As long as I can listen to a new song, look at a new painting, try to move to modern dance, take in an imposing building, gawk at an indie runway show— really even just touch a fabric's texture, smell a pungent spice, or hear a stranger’s life as they pass by— I will never run out of ideas for my art.

// David



3 ways to enlist influences from other disciplines

1. Try all the art. Know that we’re all kin. Especially art that makes you uncomfortable.

2. Work to find the language of other disciplines. Think universals. Think human condition. Think story.

3. Borrow visions from artists in other disciplines and try them out in yours. Copy, Combine, and Transform.

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  • ❓Who are 3 artists outside your medium whose work inspires you? Do you integrate them into your process?

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