It is really important to figure out whose art you like, which artworks you love and who are your heroes. Start a hero file and collect art you love. This may be as simple as a folder on your desktop, either a physical one in your study, or a virtual one on your laptop and fill it with art you love. Years ago I would cut them out of magazines. Today I could do screen grabs or save online images. If it’s an artists work that’s unknown to you, make sure you keep a reference to their name.
Some artists may have a blog you can follow. I use an rss reader and look through hundreds of entries each day, to find something interesting to read and artworks that stimulate my imagination.
I have collected a few films along the way too. Sebastian Salgado’s "Salt of the Earth" brings me to tears each time I watch it.
My biggest collection of art is in the form of books. I am obsessed if I am honest with myself. The to-read list is huge. Mostly I buy monographs and I hunt down particular collections that stimulate my visual appetite.
Why do I collect the work of other creatives? To stimulate my creativity, study how they work, get a glimpse of what is going on in their heads, to educate myself in our common visual language and to search for ideas worth playing with.
It was only the other week I had my head buried in Michael Kenna’s book on Japan, when I noticed that he often tries similar compositions in different locations at different times of the day. Noticing this vindicated my own work habits and routines. So now when I notice myself doing similar work to what I have done before I no longer need to give myself a hard time over it.
I bought his book ‘Holga’ recently too, and like the ‘Japan’ book it is one I am savouring by looking through slowly and carefully. Lingering longer at each photograph. Really looking. Ralph Gibson, apparently, recommends studying for twenty minutes per photograph. Now that is really looking isn’t it? Once you look, then you can really see what’s going on.
Another way I do this, is by visiting galleries and seeing the original artworks. I don’t think you can really appreciate a Mark Rothko until you stand in front of one and feel its unbelievable power.
Identifying and studying your masters is an incredibly valuable part of your learning journey.
I have added comments to this article on my blog, with the inspiration to create a community dialogue there. Who are your creative heroes? I would love to hear.
Snow Gums in the Snowy Mountains. Photograph and text copyright ©️ Len Metcalf 2018
Postscript: It has been pointed out that Pinterest is a really good way of collecting and organising your heroes and inspirations. I have been using it for years. I keep clips of art that inspire me in collections called "boards". It keeps a link to the orignal source which is valuable when you want to know where you got it from or who the artist was. If you install a plugin on your web browser you can save them by just clicking on the red dot that is placed over the artworks while you are browsing.