Inspiration in a Modern Era
So in February, I got to attend LTUE as a panelist. One of my panels was on finding inspiration and gathering resources for art. The panel specifically was called "Finding References for the Futuristic and Fantastic" It was moderated by an artist named Steve from Planet Archipelago, a man easily in his late 60s-early 70s. I found myself in between artists Brian Hailes, Jess Smart Smiley, and Adam Heesch Artists just a liiiittle older than I. Artists from a different generation.
I found this panel to be deeply alientating to me, the youngest artist at the table- and I am certain artists of my era- the Gen Z and Millenials, probably felt the same. It's bothered me to this day, two months after the fact. No offense of course to Steve- he found his opportunity to share his views as the moderator. He wanted to be on his soapbox, and asked very oddly pointed questions to get there. He did admit to feeling overlooked on other panels, and enjoyed actually getting the chance to talk. But as the artist in the middle?? It was surreal and I found myself kind of shut down. On a topic that should be super straightforward.
So the question then becomes: Why is this? When the first question was "What Golden Age of Science Fiction book was most influential to you?" I knew I was in trouble. One: I struggle to read. Not because I don't enjoy it, but because my ADHD makes it really hard to keep engaged. I am trapped thinking of a thousand other things I need to do, or I simply lose interest even a few chapters from the end. I am familiar with a lot of books, tropes, and genres from osmosis and research, but it doesn't mean I personally have read all those books. Two: Sure, we covered some Golden Age of Sci-Fi in school. I read "Fahrenheit 451". I read a bunch of Ray Bradbury's short stories. My mother read me "The Tripods" and "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy". But it is such an extremely small facet of all the books I've read and experienced. And such a small facet of all the books there are, whether sci-fi or other. The Golden Age of Science Fiction was such a small, itty bitty piece of science fiction as a whole, being written between the 1940s and 1960s. Steve's era of sci-fi. To focus so specifically on that, it leaves out everything else that could inspire us, in books or otherwise. Even the other artists could at least name a few books and things. I was stuck with "Uh, Ray Bradbury?" Nevermind that I love paranormal stories and cryptids. Nevermind my love of anime Vaporwave aesthetic. Such a broad topic, narrowed down to a soapbox.
I can't be the only one. Looking through the artists of my generation, we are often inspired by very, very different things. We were the children who grew up on anime. I don't know many fantasy illustrators who didn't take full inspiration from Hyao Miyazaki's films. Our books weren't Ray Bradbury. Our books were "Harry Potter" (RIP), "Twilight", and "The Hunger Games." Personal views on their writing styles and politics aside, these were the books of our childhood as Millenials. These were the books that shaped our modern sci-fi, that we loved. That inspired us. To ignore these is to ignore us.
Another question I found oddly alienating was "What past cultures inspire your art?" The other artists were quick to point out Ancient Egypt. Vikings. Medieval and Rennaisance Europe. And I? I drew blanks. I have a love of mythologies from different cultures, sure, but that's not the aesthetic I often go for, especially in my most recent works. I guess I could vaguely say high fantasy is an aspect of my work, sometimes, but that's more me drawing on the backs of the giants of artists of before- such as the Golden Age of Illustration. Not from actual history. I do love me new scientific discoveries and learning how things work- but that's not past eras, that's us modernly discovering the ancient world around us. For instance, deep sea fishes. Neon blue lava. Strange weird creeping molds that glitter and glow, and aren't quite a mushroom and aren't quite a plant. The fact that rats share more in common with humans than they do other mammals. The fact that the biggest organism in the world is a mushroom, but it all grows underground. It can grow as big as miles and miles and miles and we would walk over it and not have a clue. Or, how about a kind of orchid that grows completely underground? Complete with a flower. Or the fact that peat bogs can perfectly preserve bodies for thousands and thousands of years? Or glowing worms that live in caves? Or how vampire bats work, considering that blood is the least nutrient-rich food you can have? All of these are newer discoveries. Our world is a beautiful oyster, and this is where my inspiration comes from. More than that, my inspirations are things like modern street fashions. E-girls. Visual Kei. Japanese Lolita. Sure, these things can draw from fashions and trends of the past (Such as Lolita being based on Victorian and Rococo silhouettes), but it's distinctly modern. Cyberpunk? Vaporwave? A creation of the 80s. And my interest in horror and monsters? Sure, it's on the backs of things like "Frankenstein" and "Dracula", as well as distinctly mythological creatures, but it's also very distinctly modern. Cryptids. Horror movies. These are all the biggest inspirations for me right now. By pointing only at past cultures, you are ignoring the beauty of the present day and living in the present moment. Yeah, it's filled with some rough stuff. But it's also very incredibly beautiful. I feel like many of the artists I look up to are very similar in this respect. We bloom not in looking to the past, but milling around the ideas of our peers. I see this a lot in the furry community. Yes- werewolves are perhaps the ancient origin, but also it can't relate to just ONE culture. Instead, the ideas and trends bloom and grow within that community, in an internet era. And they bloom quickly.
Millenials very specifically work in groups and communities. We draw and are inspired by each other in a symbiosis of memes and ideas. Modern sci-fi and fantasy is almost a collaborative effort between us in this fast-pace age. And we don't really look back- we look forward. I think the point of this is to say- There is no right or wrong way to find inspiration. But millenials and Gen Z artists and creatives are a very unique species compared to the generations before us. This should not be ignored, and is equally valid. Steve, if you are reading this? It is totally fine to stand on a soapbox. (Hell, I'm standing on my soapbox right here, right now) However, the children of today shouldn't feel alienated by the questions you ask, especially when they are the ones we are trying to inspire- pass down our knowledge to. I am sorry you are feeling alienated by the new eras of artists, but it's all a matter of perspective and letting yourself bloom and change no matter your age. Embrace the changes in the art community and in our inspirations. Don't let go of where you come from, but don't overlook the newer artists entering the scene. We can bloom together.