There isn't an artist working today who doesn't delight in expounding, often at great length, on the work of those artists who served to influence him or her. Like a preacher from a pulpit, they can quote chapter and verse, often stroke for stroke, from some great painting (or occasionally NOT so great painting) that helped in making them who they are as painters. And in art history, nearly every artist has listed somewhere in his biography those artists from his past who served as models, guides, teachers, molders...whatever. But much less often mentioned, and something to which we today don't usually give much thought, is who was (or is being) INFLUENCED. Cezanne, for instance, influenced several generations of twentieth century artists. In the event you begin to feel pretty good about your work, it's rather sobering to ask yourself, "Who have I influenced?'
At this point in time, we often think of art history as having stopped about twenty years ago. We talk about Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, and others as if they were all still alive and producing artists. But they're not, except in the sense that their work serves to influence the next generation. But who did they influence? These people were powerful forces in art. They should have produced some powerful followers, but who are they? One of them is Brice Marden. He is the living testament of Pollock, de Kooning, and Rothko, also Picasso, also Tung Ch'i-ch'ang. Who? Influences don't always have to come from the previous generation. Cezanne is still influencing artist today. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang was a Ming Dynasty painter from the sixteenth century. Yet we see in Marden's "Cold Mountain I (Path), dating from 1989, the unmistakable influences of the Chinese calligraphy master as much as the New York drip-meister (Pollock).
Marden was born in 1938. He grew up in the wealthy environs of Westchester County, New York, and moved to the city in 1963. Art studies at Boston University and Yale made him an artist. The New York art scene of the 1960s and 70s made him a Minimalist artist. Like Pollock, his work is often a constant battle between the abstract and the figurative, glorifying in accidents, correcting mistakes, and leaving behind at every turn the gestural tracks of the creative effort. A close cohort of Agnes Martin, Elizabeth Murray, and Clyfford Stills, they are the "influenced" ones. They are the living proof that art history did NOT stop twenty years ago. Certainly it grew more murky. Yes, it's quite open to interpretation. And yes, it continues to be written--not with bold billboard letters, but with 10-pt. Arial on flickering word processors. The insert and delete keys are ever-present. Remember, artists are influence by words as well as pictures. Think about that the next time you paint...the next time you talk or write about your work. Who have YOU influenced?