How Dolly Parton Harnesses Artistic Influence and Inspiration

Mornin’ y’all!

Yesterday I was reading an interview with Dolly Parton in the New York Times, where she echoed an idea I talk about a lot—how we’re influenced as artists.

The interviewer posed the question:

“Have any books influenced your artistic development as a songwriter or a musician?”

And Dolly Parton responded:

Everything I came in contact with influenced me as a songwriter. I have to keep my eyes and heart open to all of life, so in some way, all the books I have read have touched me in one way or another.”

Art by Jillian Tamaki

Preach it, Dolly! Her sentiment aligns perfectly with my philosophy about artistic influence. Every book we read, every movie we see, every painting, every drawing, every piece of art—has the opportunity to speak to us and influence the art we make.

As artists, we are constantly absorbing and collecting little bits and pieces of everything we observe and experience in life. And slowly, those bits and pieces seep out of our hands and into our art.

Sometimes an artistic influence hits us with an impact, immediately reshaping how we think and create. But mostly, this process happens subconsciously. We often never even notice or realize where these seemingly random bits and pieces came from.

I’ve come to believe that this humble process of observing, absorbing, and transforming artistic influences is actually the ultimate purpose of art.

Sometimes, when I get into a little woo-woo mood, I like to think of art as a living organism. And like any living thing, its ultimate mission is to survive and reproduce—to create more art. And it does that primarily through influencing and inspiring you—the artist.

Art seeks to influence your future art.

Art hopes to inspire you to create.

And all Art really wants is for you to just make more art.

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