The Constellation of Influence

No one is independently original in the arts. What each of us does as artists is always as the children of our artistic ancestors, mentors and influences.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants”.

You can never be an exile from your past. Mature artists reach a level of security in their practice where they can afford to admit their debt to teachers conscious and unconscious. A constellation of influence is an act of confession, a journey backwards to one's roots. A constellation differs from a map in its constant fluidity, whilst a map is fixed. The constellation is a record of the process of development, which is forever on the move. The exercise to acknowledge your past is a long one that will never end, although records can be made, as in my example shown here.

To come under the influence of another's work is much like falling in love. A whole world opens up and you are given clues and possibilities to develop yourself. It may take time to work through an influence, to swallow it, digest it and spit it out at the other end, using that energy to power you forward and beyond. This healthy process allows you to retain the benefit without getting indigestion and becoming bogged down in the whole baggage.

So what is the point in exploring the constellation of influence? Is it a confession, and admission of debts? In my experience I have found it to be an invaluable resource to have at times of low energy, when the way forward seems obscured or blocked. At such a time it is helpful to have a list of past pointers, people who brought energy and ideas into your practice. An area of your work might be undernourished which could be revitalized from a visit to your past teachers.

In my experience I have found it impossible to separate my professional from my domestic life. The shared passion makes it hard to prevent seepage from one area to another. I found myself in a mood for self-revelation and ready to be votive about all my ancestors.

This exercise is as relevant for musicians and cooks, thespians and storytellers, writers and gardeners, businessmen, sportsmen, and scientists, as well as artists and craftsmen. Anyone who has learned a discipline, formally or informally, will benefit from careful retrospection of his or her influences.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who explores this process for themself, as every experience will be different, personal, and at the same time, instructive to others, and the expression will be totally individual.