One of the first questions many artists answer, whether in a biographical or artist statement or to curious acquaintances is, who are your influences? It is impossible to go through life without the influence of others seeping in and affecting the way you do things. For an artists, this can be very much the case. For some people, the work of a particular artists, writers, musicians, and others may have been the catalyst that launched them into their own career. For others, the ability to witness other peoples’ art may drive them forward in their already established careers. Idols happen. Everyone has them and they inform how we move forward. Name your idols. Give them credit and allow them in to your story.
A young college student, years ago, had a very unusual framed portrait hanging on her wall among a number of family photos. For years it hung there, and most people never noticed or bothered to ask her who this line drawn image of an 18th century man might be. A few did and the answer often surprised them. This was not some relic of a great-great-great-great-great uncle tucked in among the rest of the family. It was a portrait of John Keats, the famous English poet who produced a prodigious body of beautiful work before his untimely death at age 26. She hung it there as a reminder that someone could do so much in such a short time and she hung it there because Keats was one of her greatest idols.
You do not choose your family. You are born into whatever situation you are born into and surely this has some influence on your life. Your idols are different though, you develop these over time as your personality emerges and, make no mistake idols can be just as influential if not more so than family. One reason for this is the very fact that you choose your idols. These are individuals selected because they have in some way reached you deeply. Changed how you see some piece of the world.
There is no shame in having idols. Even your idols have idols without a doubt. And their idols have idols. And so on. You would be hard pressed to find an artist or writer or musician or just about anyone in any field who hasn’t been influenced by others over the years. None of us lives in a vacuum, and creativity requires input of all sorts. The world around us certainly provides inspiration, but being able to point to individuals who have marked your journey is a valuable pursuit as well.
Naming your idols can help explain your art to the world. Perhaps not everyone has heard of you yet but they may be familiar with some of your influences and this could go a long way in telling the world who you are as an artist. Putting your work in the context of how it relates to the work of others is a great way to start the conversation.
Take time to consider who your idols are. Who are the people that have provided inspiration and influenced your journey? Write down their names and seek out pictures of them. Immerse yourself in their work and hang their portraits on your walls. Allow yourself to be silently influenced by the presence of these people who have come before you or in whose steps you are walking side by side as your form your own path. Honor the work they have done and the way it has impacted your own work.
Allow these remote mentors to color your own vibe. Let their appeal seep into your work and your life without hesitation. The greatest artists in history have been influenced by others before them. Pablo Picasso was strongly influenced by the works of Paul Cezanne and Henri Rousseau. Even Cezanne himself, whose work was very avant-garde in his day and widely misunderstood, was in some small part influenced by his friend Camille Pissarro, among others.
No one goes through life unaffected by others around them or who have come before them. Art is often inspired by other creations whether a piece of music or a novel. Creativity flows in every direction and circles back on itself. Naming your idols opens up your work to the world and can help you dive deeper into a place of inspiration. It can also help in forming your community. Chances are you are not the only person who keeps the same idols and perhaps by opening up about them you will find others who share your affinity and are similarly influenced.
We humans are social creatures. The tendency to gravitate toward others permeates every aspect of our lives from the day to day, to how we form our views of things. A community of idols is like a silent army fortifying you at any given moment. They are always there for you reminding you how you got to where you are standing and encouraging you to stay the path.