“I come before you to defend influence.”
~Andre Gide, Concerning Influence In Literature
Over the course of several years interviewing artists and other people for my blog, articles and columns, I’ve noticed that I frequently ask variations of some of the same questions. One of these is regarding influence. Who have been your biggest influences? Who were your early influences? There’s a sense in which I am essentially asking, “How did you come to be doing this kind of work? How did you become who you are?”
I decided to put myself in the interviewees shoes to see how I would respond to this question. Who or what have been the influences in my life, especially my early years?
Certainly our homes play a major role in our early development. I grew up in a home where I felt encouraged to express myself. There was an endless supply of paper for coloring or drawing on. I recall being fascinated by tracing things, though I do not know if that is because paper was thinner then or we had tracing paper in the house. We had magazines in the house and I would trace faces or animals.
Our house had a television set when we lived in Maple Heights outside of Cleveland. I was two or three when we moved there and I remember early cartoons like Tom Terrific and Clutch Cargo. Children’s programming like Captain Kangaroo and Barnaby helped stimulate imagination. At age four I was one of the kids on the Barnaby show, an experience made more memorable by the fact that my younger brother Ron cried and was too scared to go on the show. He sat off-stage with my mom.
At age five I was enrolled in an art class at the Cleveland Institute of Art, one of the formative experiences of my taking an interest in art. Each week the class would visit different parts of the museum and then we’d draw or make “art” in one of the various designated spaces. I vividly remember the one exercise in which we were in an area with Medieval paintings and suits of armor. We had been instructed to observe the manner in which monograms were decorated by ivy and vines. Was this the beginning of learning how to “see” like an artist?
The Jon Gnagy television show in the late 1950’s or somewhere around 1960 was a strong…