Tag Archives: art

Riffing on Artists


Frantisek Kupka’s “The Yellow Scale” (oil), and Allison Johnston’s “Orange Scales of Justice” (pastel and chalk)

Sometimes I hear other artists complain about needing inspiration in order to produce new work. Although I find that my personal problem has more to do with an excess of thinking and a lack of doing, I can certainly relate. Every now and then I have the sneaking suspicion that the GENIUS idea I just sprouted has already been done… perhaps many times. But that brings up an interesting question: If we are all unique individuals with unique thoughts and experiences (and I believe we are), don’t we automatically infuse that uniqueness into our work, regardless of whether the concept is truly original? And let’s be honest, nothing is truly original anymore. The spark of an idea must always come from some other source of inspiration. It’s what we do with that inspiration, how we put our own spin on it, that really matters.

Yesterday was the final critique for my drawing class. The end-of-semester assignment was to create a “riff” of another artist’s work. Initially, the idea made me uncomfortable — there is a lot of bad art out there which is meant to pay tribute to the genius of an artist whose skill level is above and beyond the capabilities of most of us. In other words, no matter which artist I chose, I felt completely incapable of doing the original work any justice. But after a frank discussion with my instructor lamenting my lack of time, quality materials, and ability, she reminded me of the importance of individuality and perspective. We are all unique, therefore we all create unique work. If we embrace our own voices as artists and refrain from attempting to mimic, our work which is inspired by another can have its own unique style, its own unique point of view. Most of the great artists of the past were influenced by each other, pulling bits and pieces of inspiration from the world around them. But they always made their work their own. It’s okay to be influenced by other artists, it’s natural. But if we’re not putting our own uniqueness into our work, what’s the point?

The Age of Innocence — Visiting the Present Through My Past


Recently, one of my mother’s cousins stumbled upon a bunch of old photos of my grandmother when she was very young. I’ve always loved vintage photos — at times, they evoke an era and an attitude that seems so far from what we now know. No evidence of an obsessive preoccupation with cell phones or facebook updates, no forced sexuality or vulgarity, no intent to impress, just an innocence and honesty. Other times, they possess a sort of unwavering truth about the human spirit, an unchangeable quality that reveals who we are and always will be as people.

As the youngest child of parents who were also the youngest children in their families, all four of my grandparents were fairly elderly by the time I was old enough to have complex thoughts of my own. While I’m thankful I got to know them at all, I often wish I had been able to see them when they were young and full of the energy I’ve heard so much about from older relatives.

Seeing photos of my grandmother as a young woman — energetic, happy, without a care in the world — makes me feel unexpectedly connected to her. I also see glimmers of my sister, Aimee, in her face and I’m reminded of the sometimes random amalgamation of all of us. We’re all knit together from strands of a past we no longer know. But those strands (at least partly) make us who we are — complex, crazy, and beautiful.


Here’s a charcoal drawing I’ve been working on, inspired by my grandmother’s youthful grace, and collaged from one of the vintage photos I found particularly haunting. There’s something about balloons that makes me think of childhood…