Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Inspiration Vs. Imitation

While at the Huntington Library recently I came across these two paintings in the American gallery.

{ Still Life by Luigi Lucioni }
{ Small Crushed Campbell's Soup Can (Beef Noodle) by Andy Warhol }
They got me to thinking about inspiration and its ugly step-cousin imitation.  Now, let me say right away that I am not an expert on Andy Warhol and do not claim to know where he found his inspiration – aside from popular culture, of course.  However, as I looked at Lucioni’s still life I couldn’t help but wonder if Warhol if he had seen Lucioni's work and had been inspired by the modern take on a classic still life painting; specifically, the Campbell’s soup can. Although Warhol was born two years after Lucioni painted this piece, they both lived in New York City at the same time and died one year apart.  It is very likely that Warhol could have seen this piece.
Let’s say he did.  Although I am not necessarily a fan of Warhol, I think that if he did see this piece and was inspired by it, he did a great job of keeping imitation, the ugly and unwanted step-cousin of inspiration, out in the cold.  The same subject - a Campbell’s soup can - is treated very differently in each piece, but both pieces are successful in portraying a mundane part of everyday life.  Well done, boys.
So, all this thinking got me to keep on thinking about my songwriting.  There is consistently before me the challenge of letting the music of others inspire me without imitating them.
One of my biggest fears during the songwriting process is that I will end up writing a song that someone else has already written.  It’s unlikely that it would be word-for-word, but discovering that you accidentally copied a hook or melody line is the absolute worst feeling a songwriter can experience.  Having been raised "under a rock" as I affectionately say and not exposed to mainstream music until my early 20s, this challenge is especially intimidating.  However, I continue to face the challenge with a couple fingers on my keyboard and a couple fingers crossed.
This, on the other hand, I would NOT mind imitating.
If you need me, I'll be on the treadmill.


  1. When I started songwriting in late high school, I had a hard time avoiding sounding like other artists. And, yes, when you present your new song to your band and one of them says, "that's cool. the chorus sounds like that Stone Temple Pilots song", your heart falls to the floor.

    That is why I have purposely buried my head under a rock for the past decade, and my iPod seems to believe that 1997 was the last year any music was released. I figure that if I'm not finding new music I like, there's less danger of my imitating it.

    Only recently have I started to consider the viability of trying to be both a producer AND consumer of music again. But the other downside of finding new music you like is that you realize your own talent is not at all "special" and you might as well just quit. Even if that's true, I'd rather not be reminded of it.

  2. I can definitively say in your case, it is special! I know what you mean, though. When I find something truly inspirational, I find that it can at the same time rain on my parade, as it were. I have that "why should i even bother" moment. In the end I suppose we should just do what makes us happy. If it means something to us and the people we love - that's all that matters.