The 5 Benefits Of Looking At Other Artist’s Works

“Build a large visual library.” is Howard Schatz’s excellent recommendation for photographers at any stage of their journey. For decades, he has continued to do this himself well into a highly successful career, consuming images voraciously. While he haunts bookstores, he doesn’t mean just buy a lot of books with pictures in them. He means to learn to see (more versatilely, contextually, and deeply) look at a lot of images.

What are some of the benefits of exposing yourself to more images?

1 You’ll see more possibilities.

The amazing variety of images (subject, style, context) will inspire you to try some of the things you see.

2 You’ll see more of what’s been done.

Becoming familiar with a medium through its history, you’ll see the sensibilities of eras, past fads, current trends, and enduring themes.

3 You’ll develop a repertoire.

Identifying successful techniques (composition, exposure, development) that have been repeated by many different artists is the first step to incorporating some of them into your practice. 

4 You’ll see what hasn’t been done.

Once you know what’s been done, you’ll be able to imagine what hasn’t been done and may fill that gap, either with a bit of twist or a giant leap.

5 You may even combine things that have been done into new combinations.

A little of this mixed with a little of that may become a new thing.

There are more benefits to exposing yourself to more images, but isn’t this enough to get started? The principle is simple. If you look more, you’ll see better. I recommend you make it your lifelong practice. It’s a pure pleasure.

Explore more resources on Influence here.

State The Nature Of The Influence On You Simply – One Word, Phrase, Sentence

Complexity
Intuited Order
Eliot Porter saw a more complex geometry in nature.

All types of artists look closely at their influences; particularly as they’re finding their own voice, or at key stages in their creative development, for many, it’s a lifelong process. The comparisons and contrasts are illuminating and inspiring. You can get more out of this process if you simply state the nature of an influence in one sentence, one phrase, and one word.

Doing this will help you to both better understand and more effectively communicate the nature of your influences. Usually, this doesn’t happen instantly. First, it takes identifying who or what the influence is. You probably have so many influences that you’ll want to choose the ones that are most important to you to develop. Which are those? If all you do is identify this, your time will be well spent. Go a little further and you’ll get more benefits. Take a little time to uncover your thoughts about an influence; associate freely. Finally, take a little time to edit what you’ve gathered; cutting the words that aren’t quite right, keeping the ones that are, and searching for even better ones. Very often, the connections between ideas and feelings and their progressions won’t be clear until you start organizing them, but once you see them you’ll find new windows into your own work.

With this kind of writing, single words, word pairs, phrases, unfinished sentences, lists, outlines, and mind maps are more effective. Make it personal. Don’t worry about being judged and don’t judge yourself. Forget perfect. Don’t let spelling or grammar or penmanship be an issue; start, flow, and keep moving freely.  This is your inner laboratory – and the only way to grant access to yourself is to use words. The goal of this kind of writing is discovery and clarity, not publication. Later, some of the material you gather during this process may ultimately lead to words you can use in conversations, interviews, and statements. Once you make your discoveries, you get to decide what’s better left unsaid … but you can only do that after you’ve found out what you have to say.

When you’re exploring your influences ask yourself a lot of questions. Questions guide exploration. Try these questions …

What is the essence of the influence?
Is it physical?
Is it emotional?
Is it intellectual?
Is it the whole thing or few particular things?
If it’s many things at once, what is the relative weight of each of those things?
Does one influence share elements or qualities with other influences?

… but don’t stop here. Keep going.

At first, it might seem strange to generate a lot of information only to boil it down to a little, but if you try this you’ll find that the insights you’re left with will be more concentrated, help give you more focus, and be easier to act on. Simplicity has many advantages, not the least of which is simple things are easier to remember and easier to share. Never confuse simple-mindedness with simplicity. Simplicity often represents the height of sophistication, arrived at only after practice. If you can present a complex subject in a simple way without sacrificing essential content, you truly understand it.

Consciously consider your influences. You’re choosing what’s most important to you and how best to express that. (Sounds a little like making art.) When you do, you’ll understand and appreciate them better – and your own works too.

Read Why Tracking Your Influences Is So Important here.
Read Ranking Your Influences here.
Find out more about my influences here.

 








Why Tracking Your Influences Is So Important



“Who are your influences?” It’s a question often asked by professors to help artists grow, critics to place artists’ work and ideas in context, and audiences to understand artists’ creations. It’s also a question we can ask to do all of these things for ourselves.

It’s one thing to list our artistic influences, it’s another to clarify how we are responding or what they mean to us. Moving beyond questions of what influences us to how and why they influence us deepens our understanding of and our connection to the things we are moved by.

When you have a realization, write it down. Writing not only creates a durable record you can refer to later, it also makes it far more likely that you will remember what you write. List all of your influences in one place and you’ll see connections between your influences by making comparisons and contrasts –sometimes finding these insights requires asking follow up questions like, “How do the relationships between these things indicate shared qualities and themes within my own work?” and “How can the difference between these things be used to create something new?” Date the times you are influenced and you’ll see how chain reactions of thoughts and feelings start, grow, and change. You can expand your understanding by writing more than lists. Write a simple line stating the essence of what the work means to you. You may find this process so rewarding that you write more in a short paragraph or two or three that will help you reveal more connections to other feelings, thoughts, and things to clarify the essence of your response, which you may repurpose in your own artist’s statements.

Sometimes an influence, rather than coming from another artist’s entire body of work, comes from a single piece, perhaps even an atypical work. Sometimes an influence comes from an artist working in a seemingly unrelated discipline. Sometimes an influence even comes from something we don’t like or resist. Of course, there are many other things that influence us besides other artists’ works and they’re worth tracking too.

Being self-aware is different than being self-conscious. During this process, silence your inner critic. The voice(s) that helps you evaluate ideas or results is not the same voice that sees new possibilities and generates ideas. This critical aspect of ourselves can be very helpful, selecting and refining, and strengthening the best ideas drawn from many, but it serves us best after a process of observation and generation, if it is active during those processes, it can stop the flow of thoughts and feelings. Here, don’t judge; just watch.

Observing our inner world, our thoughts and feelings, our associations and disassociations, our fixations and aversions, and their interconnections move rich material from the dark corners of our subconscious into the light of the conscious mind. If we do this, we can find more material to work with, we can ask generative questions to help us grow, we can make clearer/better choices, and it’s very likely that we will be more productive and more fulfilled. When awareness is present our artistic process becomes a journey of personal discovery, which is sometimes challenging but always rewarding.

Find out more about my influences here.












Find More Inspiration & Deeper Value From Your Artistic Influences

 

Ways Of Working With Influence

 

Why Tracking Your Influences Is So Important

The 5 Benefits Of Looking At Other Artist’s Works

State The Nature Of The Influence On You Simply – One Word, Phrase, Sentence

What Was The First Photograph That Ignited Your Passion For Photography? | Coming

Gather Your Favorite Images Together | Coming

100 Great Photographers To Know | Coming

If You Like ___ Look At ____ | Coming

Make A Timeline Of Your Artistic Influences | Coming

How To Deepen Your Relationship With Influences Over Time | Coming

Rank Your Influences

6 Ways To Map Your Artistic Influences | Coming

The 5 Benefits Of Cultivating Influences Outside Your Medium | Coming

How To Create Something New By Combining Your Influences | Coming

Learning From Negative Influences | Coming

How To Overcome The Fear Of Being Influenced | Coming

How To Make Influences Your Own | Coming

 

My Influences – Photographic

 

Ansel Adams – Empowering Others

Edward Burtynsky – Manufactured Landscapes

Walter Chapelle – More Than Material

Adam Fuss – Visible Traces

Richard Misrach – A Life’s Work

Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison – Environmental Metaphors

Eliot Porter – Environmental Advocacy Through The Arts

Aaron Siskind – Literally Abstract

Jerry Uelsmann – Visions From The Mind’s Eye

Joel-Peter Witkin – Looking Into Darkness

Four Nudes By Four Photographers

Top 20 Photography Books That Influenced Me

 

My Influences

 

Mark Rothko – Color As A Universal Language

Matthais Grunewald – Acknowledging The Beatific & The Demonic

Andy Goldsworthy – Ephemeral Collaborations With Nature

Sculpture

Rank Your Influences


You can learn more about your influences by identifying their relative strengths. This quick exercise will not only help you understand how different works influence you but also begin to reveal why they influence you. It’s time well spent.

Make a ranked sorted list of your influences. Start by listing your influences, in any order that they come to mind. Then, arrange them, placing the strongest influence at the top of your list, the next strongest influence below it, and so on until the end of your list.

While some choices will come easily, others won’t. To help you make these choices, assign a number to each item on your list to determine its rank. (Use a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest.) Then arrange the items on your list from the highest number to the lowest. After you see the results, you may need to adjust your list by reranking/moving specific items.

It’s highly likely that you’ll find different artist’s works are influential to you for different reasons. Identifying how these works are influential to you can help you understand them even better. Rank each item on your list numerically based on three criteria – content (the ideas behind the work), form (style or how the work looks), and feeling (the strength of your emotional reactions to the work) – assigning a number from 1-10 for each criterion. At the same time, you can also create a cumulative or average score for each item. Now you’ll have four ways to sort your list or four new ways to compare and contrast your influences.

You may find patterns in the data that you’ve created that reveal something that wasn’t obvious before. You may find that a particular influence is significantly stronger in one criterion than the others; you like this artist’s work because of their … You may even find that a majority of your influences influence you more in one criterion than the others; you like artists who emphasize … The act of assigning numbers will encourage you to make distinctions in degree and quality that it’s very likely you hadn’t made before.

It’s quite likely that your ranked/sorted list of influences won’t be 100% accurate. By using criteria you become a little more objective. But influence isn’t entirely objective. Some things, sometimes very personal things, influence you more than others, sometimes for very personal reasons. So, fine-tune your list – intuitively. Trust your instincts. While you do, ask yourself why you’re making the moves you make and you’ll gain even more insights.

While numbers offer valuable information that can lead to genuine insights, numbers alone don’t tell your full story. For this, a little more soul searching is needed. But if you do this exercise you’ll have started off on your journey of self-discovery better informed and with a clearer direction.
Here’s a ranked/sorted list of my photographic influences.

A general trend of interest in relationships between man and nature drives my list.

Read Why Tracking Your Influences Is So Important here.
Find out more about my influences here.