The Power of Influence

Eric Herman Headshot
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Good writers borrow, great writers steal.”…?

I first heard it back in college from an instructor who attributed the quote to T.S. Elliot. It was part of a terrific lecture about the way creative minds use prior works to fuel their own efforts. The basic idea is that the better you are at weaving influences into your work, the greater you are at it.

As a writer I’ve always worn my influences on my sleeve. It wouldn’t take a forensic scientist to find the echoes of Walt Whitman, Charles Dickens, Jane Austin or Hunter S. Thompson among many others in the yarns I spin.

The irony of the “writers steal” quip is that no one really knows who said it. Over the years I’ve heard it attributed not only to Elliot, but also Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. Funny how the origin of such an influential quote about influence remains a mystery.

What’s no mystery at all, however, is the truth of the power of influence. Time and time again, we’ve seen how creative minds have essentially repurposed existing ideas and turned them into something brand new. The Renaissance was all about reviving Greek and Roman literature, art and especially architecture. In more contemporary times, how many skyscrapers do we see that were influenced by Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus? The Beatles were influenced by the Everly Brothers and Bob Dylan by Woody Guthrie. Name the creative field and you can find almost endless examples of great work influencing the best works of later artists.

The same is true of aquatic design. I would argue that today’s best pool designers and builders are inextricably bound to a set of key influences, including Thomas Church, John Lautner, Julia Morgan and certainly Frank Lloyd Wright.

This sweeping analysis becomes truly fun when we witness the power of influence operating on a grassroots level. As an example, in this addition of AQUA Architecture you’ll find a project profile by my friend Mike Farley. In his discussion, he talks about how a home’s French architecture influenced his exterior design work. On top of that, he explains how he was influenced by a David Tisherman project to include a waterwheel in the design.

I use Mike as an example here, not just because of this project, but because I’ve watched at close range how he has developed a career based on a wide range of powerful influences.

For starters, Mike is a degreed landscape architect who chose swimming pools as his main career focus. But Mike wasn’t satisfied to rest on his education to drive his work. I know this because I worked with Mike for more than a decade on a monthly column for WaterShapes. Each month Mike would review a book or some other resource that he found useful and inspiring. During that run, he covered the widest sources imaginable, from those directly related to aquatic and garden design to more general works about communication skills and general business acumen.

Again, ironically, when we first started down that path I was worried that it wouldn’t be sustainable over time. Yet with every column, Mike showed me that the bevy of resources available to industry professionals is virtually infinite.

Along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing how that galaxy of resources directly influenced Mike’s specific design decisions. I’ve seen the same occur with a cadre of designers including David Tisherman, Randy Beard, Paolo Benedetti, Mark Holden, Coleen Holmes, Roger and Sheri Soares and many others.

My point in all this is simply that creative influence is available to everyone and can be found in all sorts of places, from libraries to classrooms, from the architecture that defines our greatest cities to the beguiling beauty of nature. Yes, formal education is a big step in the direction, but more powerful still is the learning you do throughout your professional life, be it in a lecture hall, by way of a Google search or on tours of the world’s great cities and museums.

The power of influence is always around us, but you have to see it through the right eyes. As to whether or not you’re borrowing or stealing, that’s really up to you!

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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