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Watch out for people who claim complete originality. There's no such thing as completely, utterly new material -- but don't fall down depressed just yet (or m̶a̶y̶b̶e̶ I'm dramatic). It may not be completely new, but if you can really put yourself into your work (or me put me into mine) then it's always going to be artist-specific.
What that means, is, you may be able to trace back the inspiration or see similar qualities, but if there's a strong presence of the artist in their own art (as there should be), it's not going to be exactly the same as anything else.
That said, I thought it might be interesting to do a brief breakdown of a handful of influences. Maybe you can find someone new, or look at someone in a different way than before!
Here's a few artists, across several fields, who I think contribute to my own style. All artists, of all kinds, should constantly be on a lookout for what they like, and be able to identify why they like it. It's not "stealing" if you treat the media respectfully, and can be a profoundly valuable tool for self-development. Because if you don't look to anything for inspiration, you won't get around to doing anything.
I'll get right to it, then.
[Photo by Gage Skidmore] Tim Burton (hooray for cliche!) - but really, though. Sometimes things are stereotypical for good reason. In case you're unfamiliar with this image, Tim Burton is a director, writer, and artist, with contributions such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice In Wonderland, and Big Fish. Though he's typically known as the maker of "dark" movies, there's also a bright, fantastical quality to his work that inspires me. Storytelling is more than just events happening one after the other, but an entire experience.
You may be watching a main character with dead-white skin talk about how silver makes his skin crawl, or what he thinks about being dead, but there's probably going to be outrageously wide-eyed or bright colored monsters in the next scene. That is, if there isn't giant cartoonesque stripes or a disco ball and seahorse statues in the same clip. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not trying to rationalize around the dark aspects, but it's not simply that. Tim Burton illustrated to me that the bright and dark are not mutually exclusive, and people can like it and have fun with both in a work. Discovering the world of Tim Burton helped a younger me get comfortable with the glow-in-the-dark lime green as well as the black I didn't know if I was "supposed to" like at the same time.
He's also probably the biggest snark I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.
In 2012 I had the great joy of hearing him speak at George Mason University. In addition to reading the first chapter of his book The Ocean At the End of the Lane, he told all 300-ish grave-silent spectators a ghost story I'll never forget. He has a wonderfully quiet, yet strange quality to his work that helps inspire mine in a deep way. It also helps that he talked some about why Halloween is a special time of the year. When you're young and unsure, especially if what you like doesn't tend to fall in the typical "normal" realm, it can be intimidating to get into doing work of your own. Discovery of Neil Gaiman helped me realize that the dark doesn't have to be completely serious. But humor doesn't have to be pie-in-the-face to be quite good. Sometimes it can carry the finesse of a demon in a flaming Bentley, or a mouse circus in the attic flat.
So here we come to The Fratellis -
The Fratellis is the name of a "brashly melodic" indie rock band based in Glasgow, Scotland. I listen to a lot of music while I work. A lot. It's a necessary part of getting down to work, for me. From my early teens I've had a large variety of music. Sometimes it's been given to me, and I didn't actually know the title or even the band until later. While this definitely isn't the only band I listen to, it's the one that's had a resurgence in the recent months, once I remembered they actually exist. In doing some research (because that's just what I do) I found that line up above -- "brashly melodic." Then it all made sense. I'm also somewhat fond of Scotland, but I'll save that to talk about later (maybe).
I'm not sure of the true definition of "shy." But I suppose I used to be at least one definition. Hesitant, overly concerned with the reactions of others, to the point I wouldn't do anything at all. Through various less-than-desirable events in my life, I became somewhat less-shy. When some of the worst things happen, things move out of the realm of imagination and into reality. I'm all for imagination, but not when it keeps you doing nothing because of all the "what ifs" instead of dealing with "what now?" This may seem irrelevant to this music, but The Fratellis came back into my life at a good time I needed that extra push past "but what if" and right into "just do it and deal with it."
I'm still more on the quiet side, but it's so much less because anxiety, more because I just don't like to be loud unless there's a reason. I have some anchor in the music field, just nothing to report yet. The sound you hear here is the sound I'm still learning to make. Quiet doesn't mean there's nothing going on, and having a quiet tendency can be extremely frustrating when you hear this sort of thing on the inside. Knowing it exists in the real world helps me not ignore my own sound so much, for the sake of not appearing "brash" if there's a sound I really need to make. Something I need to do. Something I need to say. If it's needed and necessary, I'll deal with the effects.
Go listen to The Fratellis (just check the lyrics first, or comment for some song recommendations).
Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor who's recently known for roles like Sherlock Holmes, the dragon Smaug, and Khan Noonien Singh in the newest Star Trek "reboot." It's highly likely you already know his face, and have probably seen at least one of his movies if you're a film enthusiast. No, he's not in this list just because of his face. Though I like that for other reasons. So let's continue...
Apart from some of the more mainstream roles, you may not know he also played Martin Crieff in the radio series called Cabin Pressure. There, he's quite the opposite of his version of Sherlock Holmes, and drastically different than Khan. There's also the character Davy, of Third Star fame to those who follow his films more closely (though I've seen only pieces of this one, and those pieces have me putting it on the "do not touch because emotions" shelf for the time being).
I know there's something to be said for all the training and study he's had in acting. However, I'm a firm believer that, even with training, even with all the "correct" tools, you still have to put your heart into your work for it to be the kind of quality I find his to be. He's done scary superhuman villain behind glass. He's done airline pilot nerd, and with a voice so nervous it's almost indestinguishable in the character of Smaug and Sherlock Holmes. I enjoy his work and take inspiration from it because sometimes I feel myself getting caught up in the idea (lie) that an artist has to do one style, or all directly related styles. If Benedict can take off the long black trench and black suit and go find his "I Am the Pilot" cap, I can do anything I can put the real effort into and shouldn't mind those weird pangs of self-doubt.
So, those are some of my inspirations. It's definitely not a full list, because though I could expand somewhat, a full list wouldn't be concrete, but more of a nebulous mess of majestic scraps and psychology. I may expand it later if I have reason to do so, but I thought these were particularly relevant to me lately.
What about you, though? What's something you like, that helps you get down to your own work?
What's something that inspires you, that you constantly look for? And how often do you find it?
Why do you think people get inspired by one thing, but not something else?