The Difference Between Inspiration and Influence

(Originally published in 9/07/2010)

I was recently y confronted with the subject of inspiration versus influence. Besides determining it for the video tutorial in which I shortly wrote something about that matter, I also wanted to get closer to the specific differences, or better said: what is the difference between inspiration, influence or even a copy?

I don´t think there is much to say about copy in terms of artistic expression. Copy means copy – copying something existing either for the purpose of learning or stealing for whatever reason, but the result will never be something original.


The difference between inspiration and influence is far more nuanced;
I will not provide the dictionary definition here, for I’d rather share my own view about that matter and invite you to discuss in the comment section.

I see inspiration as something that can´t be grabbed, a holy grail if you´ll call it as such, an untouchable artistic spirit also referred to as muse. If you watch the video tutorial on dtuts.com or view the image above, you will see some inspirations from the director Clive Barker, the band Tool, the movie Pan´s Labyrinth and the illustrator Brom.
These are indeed inspirations, but not necessarily influences, they have rather fleetingly had a remark on the development and the desired outcome.

For those of you interested in the process behind creating this image, here is a roughly 5 minute teaser cut. I´d appreciate if you will head towards the full length and of course free video tutorial here

I don’t believe there is anything intrinsically wrong with “being inspired” or “being influenced”, in fact the opposite is true. Sometimes it makes it easier for art-buyers, other artists or just interested parties, friends or co-workers where you as an artist come from.
But I´d like to clearly differentiate between these two terms, because influence can be a bitch. If you´re as artist too much in love with another artist’s work, even if that artist is the reason you started to paint like a maniac, the result will be very one-sided. Your mimicry will be easily recognizable, placing you in a drawer sooner or later. I was in that trap my early years, and it took a long time until I found out how to fix that: with inspiration.

“If it were about chemicals, I´d describe influence as toxic and inspiration ephemeral.”

Inspiration can be anything: a model pose, a wonderful song, a commercial, watching leafs on a tree, you name it. But influence is in an artist’s case is comparable to a stamp, like an exquisite evening at the discotheque, for example. The stamp cannot be removed that easily, and it’s also that important to know where you are coming from and heading towards as an artist.

Because that way you can leave the path, try out things and come back to the roots at anytime.  It’s imperative that an aspiring artist not just copy or learn from one person alone, such as it is in school to have different teachers who have different approaches to teaching things.

I have put my “influence-map” on deviantArt which you can find in the artist description something with relevant and detailed information on each artist. While these are my roots, inspiration can take over and help me explore absolutely new paths and ways to redefine what’s possible

Click to expand

These are also just artistic influences, music and writing are nice too. However, the people behind all that in general have a bigger effect. I´d say even quotes have a big influence, at least they help to keep the head up in tough times.

When it comes to mind-popping quotes or making the brain-bend, I highly suggest some inspiring words from Oscar Wilde, Bruce Lee, Steven Wright and Randy Pausch. Below I´ll post some that I find very thought-provoking.

What quotes or authors would you put in big letters on your desktop wall?

Oscar Wilde: “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative!”

Bruce Lee: “If you are being in critique, you have done something right, a player will only attack another one who has the ball.”

Steven Wright:

“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”

Randy Pausch:

“You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise, the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”

If you have a look on deviantArt searching for “influence map”  you´ll find a lot of visual input and it’s clear that not one artist is without influence, it just depends if you “stick to your roots” or if you “branch out and explore”, what type are you? I think I´m a little bit of both.



About the Author Oliver Wetter

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