where we come from

In her episode of Abstract: The Art of Design, Es Devlin makes the claim that, “the systems and influences of one’s childhood are inescapable.” While peering down on a model of her hometown, she says, “My work is as much a reaction against this as it is continuing to perpetuate the influence of this.”

looking down on Rye, England

This small remark has me thinking about where an artist comes from and how it influences the work they make.

In a discussion about Ray Bradbury, Dana Gioia makes an interesting observation:

How do you decide where a writer comes from? There are two possible theories — both valid. The first theory looks at where a writer was born and spent his or her childhood. But I favor a different view. I believe a writer belongs to the place where he or she hits puberty. That’s the point where the child goes from a received family identity to an independent adult existence.

Based on this definition, it makes sense that an artist’s work might both reflect the belief system of their upbringing, while simultaneously attempting to dismantle that same belief system, as Es Devlin suggests. After all, isn’t adolescence the ripping away from who you were to become who you are?

As I’ve been stuck in my hometown for the past few weeks, it’s been interesting to observe how my surroundings have impacted my writing. It’s less work and more play, almost like I’m a kid again. And yet, I can feel the pull of comparison, the desire to measure my life by the money I make and the things I own, contrasted against the accomplishments of those around me. It’s a strange contradiction to grapple with.

Finding your artistic voice lies in how you perpetuate and also dismantle your upbringing.