Today’s post will be brief, but I want to raise the topic of artistic lineages. Just as in various world traditions and religion, scholarship, etc. (for example, the particular Tibetan Buddhist lineage the Dalai Lama comes from), there are lineages artists might find themselves influenced by. Of course we have schools or movements within the arts, like the Black Mountain Poets or the Harlem Renaissance. One might argue that this idea of an artistic lineage is the same thing, but I would counter that it spans time and is perhaps more about how artists influence each other across genres. There is the “downtown New York” scene that went on for a few decades: Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith, Meredith Monk, and more recently, Suzanne Vega to name a few. I find myself most deeply fascinated by this lineage of artists, which you can see is largely musical. Some of these artists have worked together and influenced each other.
When I was a graduate and then music student in New York, I had the great fortune of discovering the work of Suzanne Vega and see her perform at Barnard in Columbia twice, and worked as a temp at Philip Glass’s archives for a couple of weeks one summer. While it is hard to put into words what I like about this “downtown New York” lineage, I can say that I find it very cultured, intelligent, heartfelt, and urbane. These artists do not draw only on what is contemporary or their own feelings, but they have connections to greater works of art or artists. Patti Smith is truly a woman of letters who is fascinated by all modes of art, from fashion to literature to opera.
It is important for every artist, in whatever medium or modality they work in, to think about their influences. Sure, we can say that our work is our own, original, and not like anyone else’s. But somehow, somewhere subconsciously, there are artists whose works we admire. Whether or not we choose to emulate them is a different story, but we have to be aware of who influences us and who has made us think and feel and react in certain aesthetic ways.
What are your favorite artistic lineages?