There are five or six good reasons why you should think about influences but there's only one reason that really matters. It's the necessity to see your effort not uniquely isolated, but part of a larger whole.
When I graduated from the university art program there were perhaps twenty other students graduating with me. They all had ambitions about their art careers, but over the years most if not all of them stopped painting. They...just...stopped.
I remember an English professor explaining the research process to her students who didn't know how they could come up with any original ideas. She started by saying, "Think of yourself as entering a room. There is a spirited conversation going on. Other people enter, join in the conversation, and then leave. But the conversation continues."
As an artist, I've come to understand that I must join the conversation.
The image at the left is by Isaac Levitan, titled "By The Deep Waters." Isaac Levitan (1860 - 1900) was a lyrical Russian landscape painter. Levitan found his initial inspiration in the Barbizon School of French painters, as do I, but what influences me the most with Levitan is the conversation that he's having with his viewers. I appreciate the technical "words" he uses, but discovering how he can awaken human emotion in a way that has been described as poetic, philosophical and psychological - this is my challenge. My influence. This is the conversation that I want to join.
You can think of artistic influences any way you want, but I've discovered there are levels of thinking more productive for me than others. And I have to wonder if the reason why my fellow students stopped painting was because they never thought about it - finding a conversation they could join.
Images courtesy of Olga's Gallery.