Influence is something that sneaks up on you.  Where do your ideas come from?  Do you know?

I’ve looked at my daughter’s painting of a tree many times.  For a long time it sat on the kitchen table and we saw it daily.  It has the big plain features characteristic of children’s art, a bold simplicity that modern masters like Matisse and Picasso found compelling and used as visual sources in their works.  I like my kid’s painting.  Not just because she made it.  Certain works of hers I have already copied directly into paintings of mine, when they fit into the scheme of a painting.  She draws really well (though it’s not obvious in this particular image) so I’m accustomed to using her ideas and of being “influenced” by her. 

But the similarity between these two paintings, hers of the tree and mine of the honey jar, didn’t strike me until they just happened to be sitting in accidental proximity.  From across a room, the resemblance is especially evident.  The cradling branches of her tree become the wooden honey ladle balanced on the lid of the jar.  The trunk becomes the jar itself.  The dark shadow cast by the tree occupies the same area as the path of white flowers of the patterned cloth in my picture.  The green boughs are folds of jade cloth in mine.  And the litle cloud becomes the ribbed end of the dipper.

I cannot say for certain that my daughter’s picture affected mine.  But influence is something like that — a quiet affect of images remembered.  Lots of other influences, no doubt, also found their way into my little picture.  I have been looking at still life a lot lately and found many artists whose works I love that I’ve spent serious time enjoying — a feast for the eyes.

The surest way to teach your visual sensibility is to just look.  Pick strong, beautiful paintings and just look at them.  A lot.  The understanding of how the best artists compose their pictures comes to one silently through long observation.  An ordering principle works its way into your mind through such a process of looking.  It is never a matter of rules.  A strong sense of how things fit together doesn’t come through a conscious process of following instructions, but through a kind of visual osmosis that is the result of looking and staring.  The best instruction comes through the manifestation of your own longing when you see something and think, “Wow.  I wish I’d painted that.”


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