Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Wear Your Influences Proudly

We all produce our writing and art from the raw materials within our minds, yet so much of what is in our minds comes from the outside.  What we eat, our means of transportation, the language we speak, major life benchmarks, and so much more are based on the norms for our regional culture.  People within a culture work from a related set of inspirations to produce designs, styles, and imprints.  Whenever a particular design becomes popular, that vision itself becomes a new inspiration that gets stirred back into the mix.

An example is the artwork Gas Walker I by soulburn3d on deviantArt.  Depending on your own influences, you might see something here that reminds you the movie Alien, or the video game Mass Effect.  For me, it looked a little like a shadow ship from the TV series Babylon 5.  But Babylon 5 is hardly the 'prime mover' of influences.  They too took from what was around them to create the overall design scheme of the series.  I like to think the designers said, "Hey, we have to create the spaceship for the creepy bad guys - so what looks really creepy?"  Well, why not pick out things that actually do creep and put them together?  You can't get much more basic in your influences than forms of life that have been around for tens of thousands of years.

Basic math equation for creepy ship
The artist soulburn3d, Neil Blevins, states this in a way that really appeals to me, "... when it comes down to it, it's all just that we were inspired by the same things. And that's how it should be, everyone should take their influences and try to find a unique take on them, and find other contemporary people producing artwork that speaks to you, and incorporate the parts you like into your own style. I'll never say my style is unique, but hopefully it's different enough that it's recognizable. I wear my influences proudly ..."

That one might have crash landed
Yet it remains a difficult question - how do we take our inspirations, on large and small scales, and give them a twist, a strange perspective, or a surprising viewpoint?  Where does "too derivative" stop and "something unique and interesting" start?  It can be very subjective.  After all, once we have flying spider ships on the brain, everything starts to look like a flying spider ship.  No really.  When NASA's Messenger spacecraft took images of Mercury in 2008, it spotted this set of radial grooves.  B5 fans, some of which were science team members, all had the same reaction.  Yep.  The bad guys were hiding on the unexplored side of Mercury all this time ...

As I noted, the idea that we should wear our "influences proudly" really appeals to me.  We all have them, and being conscious of our inspirations allows us to (A) give them proper credit and homage, and (B) see more clearly how we can use our personalities in combination with our inspirations to produce something that carries our own unique fingerprint.  Perhaps the only real way to know if we have generated the next new vision is if we then become inspirations for the generation of artists and writers that follow us.

Pax, All 


Image Credits:  Artwork - Gas Walker I by appears with the generous permission of soulburn3d, Neil Blevins, on deviantArt.  Artist soulburn3d is a professional digital artist.  "I've been an artist for as long as I can remember. Raised in Canada on a healthy dose of scifi and fantasy films, books, and videogames, I began painting and drawing traditionally, and then got into the computer, making 3d graphics and painting in 2d digitally. Professionally, I've created art for animated features, live action, videogames, TV, ride films and album art for companies like Blur Studio, and Pixar, where I currently work as a Technical Director."  Spider image from, J. Coelho on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0.  Crab image, Dancing with Ghosts on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0.  Shadow ship, Babylon 5 series promotional image.  Mercury Image, NASA Messenger mission, NASA/JPL/APL.


Amy said...

Your "basic math equation" is a great visual for how inspiration can work. It also makes me laugh. But it looks like it could have been exactly what some designer did.

As a poet, I have often used poems or a poet as a direct influence for my work. Sometimes it's awesome. Sometimes, like when I decided to take my cues from Sylvia Plath, it fails spectacularly. So occasionally I have to admit that I'm just never going to be able to add anything new or interesting to what a previous writer did so well.

JA Grier (ee/em/eir) said...

I think we can give ourselves unfair pressure when we compare ourselves to our very favorite writers. We have a bias in favor of them, so it is no wonder we feel like we'll never write so well. But other people may actually prefer our writing because of our voice or form, who knows?