Art in Response to Art

It can be a slow burn or a lightning strike: the spark of an idea for a new work of art.

Sometimes it starts with an image, or a memory, or a misheard fragment of speech. Or it may start when one artist experiences another artist’s work, a journey of imagination as an art audience that leads to an exploration as creator.

We’re interested in art made in response to other art. So we asked artists, What are your experiences creating work inspired by or inspiring of another artist?

Rodney Wittwer, on a poem inspired by photography
Two of Laura McPhee’s photos specifically inspired lines of “Tire Swing, Frozen River” (read the poem, with McPhee’s photographs). They were part of an exhibition (River of No Return) of her work at the MFA Boston. I did not go there with the intention of writing a poem, but there was something so evocative and overwhelming that I felt compelled to jot down several notes. It wasn’t just the physical size of the photographs (large-scale), but the immensity of landscape in combination with the intensity and intimacy of the girl who appeared in several of them.

Although the poem went through several incarnations, most much longer with expanded narrative, I realized that the essence was really in the original notes I had made at the museum in direct response to McPhee’s work. Thus, the condensed final version.

Interestingly, when I went back to look at my original notes to write this piece for ArtSake, I noticed that the final lines (not related to anything viewed at the MFA) had been written just a couple days earlier; so I like to think I was somehow “prepared” to let the photos inhabit me.

Cristi Rinklin, on an art installation that inspired music
When I approached Shirish Korde to perform in my installation, I was initially drawn to the beauty and meditative quality of his music. Because he is a colleague of mine at the College of the Holy Cross, I thought it would be a great opportunity to finally publicly collaborate. But once we began talking about common themes within our work, the dialogue really took off. When I spoke about my fascination and concern about cycles of creation and destruction that constantly besiege humanity, Shirish talked about similar cycles of decay, destruction, and renewal in Hindu Cosmology. We also talked about parallels between the ways we both combine traditional, hands-on techniques with technology. But once Shirish played for me one of the pieces he planned to perform at the reception for Diluvial, it was like seeing my work come to life in my mind’s eye. In the same way a great soundtrack adds drama and texture to a cinematic moment, Shirish’s music gave my piece gravity and movement, and completely transformed the work’s emotional impact.

Brendan Mathews, on a short story that inspired visual art
In the fall of 2011, a graduate illustration class at the School of Visual Arts used one of my stories – “My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer” – as the basis for a semester-long project (see images from the exhibition with lines from the story). I didn’t know anything about it until one of the students emailed me to let me know there would be an exhibit in New York in the spring. Seeing their work on the wall just knocked me out.

One artist, Keith Negley, did a series of portraits that were so close to my sense of the story that it was like he was there as it was being written. Maelle Doliveux used a single line to explore pain and pleasure in the story; her work was so vivid that it really opened my eyes to way those forces are knit into the setting and the lives of the characters. And Molly Brooks created a graphic novel that imagined a whole other life for one of the characters and that made it her character, not one of mine taken on loan. It was a reminder in the best possible way that you don’t control what you create.

Have you created work inspired by or inspiring of another artist? Share a comment about your experiences.

Rodney Wittwer’s book of poetry, Gone & Gone, will be published by Red Hen Press in September 2012.

Cristi Rinklin’s Diluvial is on exhibit at Currier Museum of Art through September 8, 2012.

Brendan Mathews’s short story My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened with the Lion Tamer was published in Best American Short Stories 2010 and is available as a Kindle download.

Images: Laura McPhee, MATTIE, BOB, AND BO, ROAD CREEK CUSTER COUNTY, IDAHO (2005), courtesy of Carroll and Sons Gallery; Maelle Doliveux, from the series A Cage Full of Beasts.

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One Response to “Art in Response to Art”

  1. Erik K. Gustafson Says:

    While he passed away in 2008, my grandfather has continued to inform parts of my life. I wish I could share with him today how moving his somewhat private legacy of artwork: paintings and photographs, have remained for me among others, especially his family and friends. This past year, one photograph that my grandfather took has inspired me to write an original musical composition. The photograph was of a rose, thought to be an ‘Elina’ rose but actually identified to be one bearing the name: ‘Apricot Nectar’. Perhaps, both roses can be seen to have yellow or even a little sunshine captured in their centers. In any case, both the original photograph as well as the travels with my grandfather to Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, Connecticut–where the picture was taken–inspired my piece, Elina Rose for piano solo. Not knowing exactly the reason for the genesis of the composition, I have thought of a poem that my father introduced me to by Noel Coward: “Nothing Is Lost”. To listen to the music or to view the photograph of inspiration, please feel free to visit my web address:

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