Don’t worry about your originality. You could not get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick to you and show you up for better or for worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.
– Robert Henri from The Art Spirit
I used to be a big Radiohead fan. I recall when Kid A came out the band talked about how they just wanted to make an album like Aphex Twin, an electronic artist I wasn’t into, and the result was Kid A. Listening to then side by side I guess you can see some influence, but Aphex Twin would never have made Kid A. That was a distinctly Radiohead album. They had a true enough sense of themselves that even if they tried to mimic they never lost the underlying Radiohead-ness. And that Radiohead-ness resonated with the fans to the point that it became part of them as well.
When I was writing, I dealt with the same thing. I just wanted to write a book like Calvino at one time, then it was just wanting to write like Cesare Pavese and Alberto Moravia. Both of my novels, despite being different in subject, style, and influence are I think/hope still very much mine (how good they are is another matter). Thinking of Elvis Costello’s homage to Stax Records–Get Happy–that is still very much an Elvis Costello album, to work “after” someone else is not to mimic but to understand what that artist means to me.
Here I am now just trying to make a Sargent painting. Of course it’s a lot more that that, or at least different, and I have failed at that false goal anyway. I had other things in mind, my own way of seeing, my own developing abilities/limits, everything else that went into this, including my influences. To bring Robert Henri back into it:
All the past up to a moment ago is your legacy. You have a right to it. The works of ancient masters, those of the student next to you, the remark let drop a moment ago, all is experience.
I think this painting came out pretty well as mine. But that’s only part of it. What does the work say? What does it do? Does it have that animating element to make it not just mine, but the viewer’s as well? Does it resonate? That’s always the challenge, and maybe the thing that matters above all. Art is conversation as much as expression.
Thanks for reading.