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Creating a Creative Diet: How the Content We Consume Informs Our Work

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| January 4, 2021

I was recently listening to an episode of the Draftsmen podcast, where hosts Stan Prokopenko and Marshall Vandruff discuss all things art-related. This particular episode’s theme was composition, something Marshall specializes in and has taught for a number of years. Towards the end of the episode, Marshall explained that the best compositions are born from metaphors, in the sense that the feeling of one object is applied to the rendering of another in order to imbue it with a similar emotional energy. An example he gave was using the visual language of a waterfall to inform the design of a wedding dress in order to capture the same sense of serenity and grace. He referred to this approach as an “ingested metaphor”, and stated that when taken a step further, an artist can consume so much of something that it begins to manifest itself unconsciously in the work.

To illustrate his point, Marshall offered up the work of a few artists for examples of this in practice. According to Marshall, N.C. Wyeth spent so much of his time observing and painting the sea, that the visual language of the waves began to manifest itself in any subject matter he painted, whether in the clothes and hair of his figures, or the trees of his landscapes. Another example is Wayne Thiebaud, who spent such a great deal of time painting cakes and pastries that when he painted figures standing on a beach, they communicate the same energy, like “candles on a cake” to quote Marshall.

This concept of ingested metaphor got me thinking. There are a number of factors that contribute to our unique creative voice, many of which are unconscious and hard to tap into. Our creative decision making is the product of years of conditioning and forming preferences, the calcification of time and influence, all culminating into the product that is us. Everything from the types of subject matter we explore to our favorite colors stems from these creative roots and if you’re like me, this process has been mostly unconscious. I’m exposed to new things within the creative sphere everyday and willingly subject myself to the algorithms of Instagram and Pinterest, often leading me down roads I never would have found otherwise.

If Marshall’s ideas about ingested metaphors are true, and I do believe them to be, then those iconic few, the creatives whose work possess the most recognizable aesthetics, have taken a different path. Whether consciously or not, they committed to a very specific direction. I’ve come to realize that if I hope to achieve what they have, I need to alter my creative diet and be more intentional with the content I consume, as it has an impact on my work. We have control over the ideas we expose ourselves to, whether that be the art we look at, the shows we watch, or the books we read. I think it would benefit you to take a look at these things in your own life. If they feel like creative junk food, cut them out of your diet, focus on the substantial things that you can pull inspiration from. Find ways to incorporate your hobbies and interests, delve deeper into these things and let them inform your creative practice.


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