In the broadest sense, artists are many things. In this paper, I discuss one aspect of artists: how their creative work influences one another. To explain how this works in greater depth, I share how studying African American culture influenced my creative voice. There are many famous artists, examples too, ones with prestigious lives, available to study all throughout history. However, I think there is also value in showing how an average artist, like myself, can be influenced in a very short period.
To start with, it is important to understand the context in witch I am learning about African American culture. I am engaged in a 10-week program that focuses on the time period from when slavery ended in the United Sates through the 1980s. This includes, among other things, spiritual songs, paintings from the Great Migration, novels from the Harlem Renaissance, speeches from the Civil Rights Movement, and poetry from the Black Art Movement. While it is possible to look at this history and see how one art influenced the next, in the broad sense of movements, this paper focuses on the artists themselves.
Artists and their specific works that influenced my creative project center this paper. Being a student of the humanities and depth psychology, I present information within an existing structure, so that it is also relevant to others. Choosing to talk about personal creative work is choosing to present research. However, there is much debate over the evaluation criteria of arts-based research (Leavy, 2008). My goal is to show how artists influence each other directly by engaging in my visual art practice with that intention.
In my creative work I made 30 minimagnet signs that stick on my car. I started on my computer by collecting 113 images of political images that captured my attention. From that, I selected three affirmations: TEACH PEACE, ARTS IS ACTIVISM, R(LOVE)UTION. As I typed up the words, I felt a compulsion to create multiples. Next, I cut and glued the printed words on to minimagnets. In this moment, I got concerned about how I would distribute the magnets. I decided to make additional magnets using the word, FREE. In a spur of the moment decision, I too, use paint and wrote the word FREE on the magnets. At this point, I got lost in the process of paint and glue and glitter and scissors. Later, when everything was done, I gathered up my magnet signs and placed them all on my car, as seen in Figure 1. I handed out a few magnets to friends, and I left the rest so that strangers can take them off my car. Finally, I reflected on the creative project.
I really want people to notice the magnets on my car and take one. I plan to make more. I question my choice in making small magnets, and contemplate how the size represents my fears around the dangers and repercussions of speaking my truth. Also, looking at the funky sparkly magnets, I realize unity and quantity are as important as the message. I am inspired most by the affirmation, I AM FREE, and it is a phrase that came spontaneously during the creative process. I am surprised how much pride I feel in displaying these words that I aspire to embody always. What is different and vital is my new willingness to stand out and be alone, knowing I am not really alone, that there are like-minded people out there.
I have already connected with like-mined people. I would not have created these minimagnet signs if it were not for the influence of the African American artists I have been studying. Their influence felt like support to create art that makes me feel proud, powerful, and hopeful to just be. Their creative influence is energizing, gives my art a deeper sense of purpose and place. More than finding kindred creative spirits, these artists expanded my understand of my creative potential. Their work taught me how powerful it is to speak authentically. They gave me permission to seek what matter most, see it as valuable, and have the courage to embody it.
The first words that sparked something new, yet familiar and powerful inside of me, were the words of Alice Walker. In Part One of Walker’s (1983) book, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, is this poem:
BE NOBODY’S DARLING
Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradiction
Of your life
And wrap around
You like a shawl,
To parry stones
To keep you warm.
Watch the people succumb
With ample cheer
Let them look askance at you
And you askance reply.
Be an outcast;
Be pleased to walk alone
Or line the crowded
With other impetuous
Make merry gathering
On the bank
Where thousands perished
For brave hurt words
Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Qualified to live
Among your dead. (p. 40)
In her book, Walker (1983) shared a lot of her creative influences from past African Americans, which also resonate with me. Although the scope of this paper is too short to list them all, I want to follow one thread of influence that was critical for Walker and me, Martin Luther King, Jr. Walker (1983) said, “At the moment I saw his resistance I knew I would never be able to live in this country without resisting everything that sought to disinherit me” (p. 144). There is an emotion expressed in this statement that is similar to how I felt reading Walker’s poem. It is about being empowered, knowing what is right, and finding courage to own it.
King inspired whole nations, but what inspired him? Again, there are many possible answers, including the psychological influences of biblical characters (Selig, 2012). They say music inspired him and, in particular, a favorite song was “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” (Selig, 2016). Like a branching tree, the influence of African American music, in particular, can spread out infinitely. Bringing it back to what inspired me to make miniprotest magnets, I want to share the end of King’s famous speech, “I Have a Dream”:
And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! (Pitney, 2013, para. 46)
In conclusion, the spiritual songs inspired King who, in turn, inspired Walker who, in turn, inspired me to publically claim my birthright as a human being, freedom. How each artist is able to embody the feeling of freedom is unique. It could be spiritual freedom, political freedom, creative freedom, emotional freedom, physical freedom, cultural freedom, or sexual freedom. Despite the differences, for an artist like myself, it is clear that by studying history and, in particular, the lives of influential artists, we have a great deal to gain. Honoring past achievements, through appreciation and imitation, accelerates personal development while also keeping the legacy of great artists work alive.
- Pitney Text. (2013, August 25). References and allusions in the “I Have a Dream Speech” [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.bessettepitney.net/2013/08/references-and-allusions-in-i-have.html
- Cline, M (2016, May 15). Car magnets for peace and love [Photograph]. Retrieved from https://myartistdiary.com/2016/05/15/car-magnets-for-peace-and-love/
- Leavy, P. (2008). Method meets art: Arts-Based research practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- Selig, J. L. (2012). Integration: The psychology and mythology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his (unfinished) therapy with the soul of America. Carpinteria, CA: Mandorla Books.
- Selig, J. L. (2016). “Long Live the King”: Martin Luther King, Jr. as influenced and influencer [Presentation]. Retrieved from https://elearning.my.pacifica.edu/d2l/le/content/45870/
- Walker, A. (1983). In search of our mother’s gardens. Orlando, FL: Harcourt.