As artists, we often speak of inspiration and its sources. Topics like nature, landscapes, people and politics arise repeatedly. Certainly these sources of inspiration are fundamental to self-expression. Without them what would we express?
Often overlooked, however, is the power of influence. Key to our understanding and, more importantly, to our realization of its potential is our recognition of influence in our lives as well as in our work.
How do we recognize the sources and effects of influence? We must first look for them!
Turn your mind’s eye inward. Whom can you see there who has had a powerful influence on your work, on your life? The two, work and life, are one for an artist. As a dear friend, also an artist, once said to me, “Art is not an occupation; it is a lifestyle.”
Consider first the obvious powerful influence in your life, your parents. Think about how their attitudes and behaviors helped shape you as both person and artist. How powerful was their influence? Was it a positive influence? How so? What steps can you take today that can lead you forward as you seek to achieve your goals?
For example, my mother always encouraged me to “be an individual–do not just follow the crowd.” That advice led me to Africa, caused me to stand apart from others, to create my own identity, and to be a leader rather than a follower.
How do I use that influence today? I take a leadership role in my guild, live in a remote part of the world, brand my persona through my blog and design quilts my way.
What positive influence in your life can you attribute to your parents, and how can you better maximize the essence of that influence in your life and in your quilting?
What, if any, negative influence did you receive from your parents? Can you now view that past influence dispassionately, come to terms with it and turn it around so that it benefits you in the present?
When I was a teenager, my father insisted that I must learn to touch type. He wanted me to study shorthand as well, but sadly, I never did. Dad’s logic was that if I did not go to college and was ever in need of financial support I “could always find work as a secretary.”
Youthful pride and ambition in a world where women’s job opportunities were largely limited to nursing, teaching and secretarial work, I resented and resisted Dad’s advice. I did, however, get my touch typing skill up to 70 wpm, a level that has stood me in good stead through university papers and reports. It underlies my comfort and success with computers, makes it possible for me to manage my blog easily and helps me write articles for quilting magazines even today!
Dad had more vision that I credited him for at the time. I deeply regret not studying shorthand when I had the chance. If I had, I would now be able to capture even these thoughts as quickly as they occur to me.
From parents and perhaps siblings, we can extend our consideration of the power of influence to teachers and spiritual mentors, those who assisted our parents in the upbringing of children within their communities. Look again for the many ways words of advice from those special people so many years ago continue to direct your footsteps today. Look at both positive and negative influences and how each of use can now observe from a distance and redirect or capitalize on those influences in our lives and work.
More relevant to our discussion here, think about the people who have had the greatest influence on your quilting. Maybe your grandmother or your mother taught you to make patchwork quilts. How much of what you learned from them have you re-examined, discarded or expanded upon?
What quilt classes or workshops have you attended? Which teachers were your favorites? Why? What made those teachers special to you? What influence did each have on your work and how has that influence affected the outcome of your pieces?
The teacher who had the most profound effect on my attitudes toward quilting was Nancy Crow. For me, Nancy “opened the door.” She showed me that it was possible and acceptable to think about quilting in a different way, to go beyond mere acceptance of the norm and to challenge every assumption. This influence and its effect on my life and work is a debt I can only humbly acknowledge. I can never repay it except by “passing it forward.”
Click on the link to visit Nancy Crow’s Web site and view her work. Then compare what you see there with my own. It may be difficult for you to see any similarity between the two styles of design, but to a large extent, my work is based on what Nancy taught me many years ago. We have each moved on since then, and moved in very different directions, but Nancy’s influence on my work was truly profound. Thank you, Nancy!
Redefinitions I, art quilt by Dena Crain
Redefinitions II (work in progress), art quilt by Dena Crain
When someone special in your life exerts a strong influence over your or your work, receive that influence with humility. Indeed, you may not even recognize its important at the time. You may have to wait some while before you will sense its presence.
Once you see that influence, though, push it forward. In your heart, you know that person’s words rang true. Look more closely at them, search for deeper meanings, reveal and understand them in the light of greater awareness. Then look for ways you can add to those thought, use the ideas, teach and stretch yourself.
The power of influence can be a wicked tool of evil when used for wrong. Used for right, it is one of the greatest gifts we can receive and share. Understand the influences in your life and use them well!