How does one map an influence?

As we begin to map influences, a whole bunch of questions arise about how the map should work. How best to represent the context of the relationship? Was the influence in the form of a direct reference, a sound, a mood, or something more ineffable? The genre whiteboard was a good warm-up exercise, but the more useful and challenging mapping is of both artists and individual works of art. Movies are a little easier than music, because they are relatively finite. Let’s look at my favorite film of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark along with the rest of the Indiana Jones series. I’m stopping after Last Crusade, out of a deep-seated denial that anything happened (or is happening) after that.

The map needs to do a few things: 1.) acknowledge predecessors and successors, ideally by year or decade; 2.) recognize artists (like the Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune) whose whole body of work serves as an influence; similar vibe for “Bond Series” – it’s a character as influence more than a specific film 3.) demonstrate the positive and not-so-positive influence on the medium, post-release. This map only has a fraction of the long-forgotten list of knock-offs (Looking at you, Allan Quartermain).

The big flaw here is the absence of context for each of these references. There’s an incredibly rich and detailed history of the influences of this particular film, from the transcripts of the weekend screenwriting blitz between Spielberg, Lucas and Kasdan, to fan-made comparisons of every visual reference in the first few minutes of the film.

Music is a little trickier, because musicians stay alive for a while (generally), and so their influences invariably evolve over time. They interact with their influences, and often influence them right back. And so predecessors, successors AND contemporaries need to be recognized:

Beatles influence map, marked up

This gets at the flow, but what if we want to represent the actual lifetime, and active work period for a given artist. Here is a map that shows Bruce Springsteen’s influences, but with each recorded album for each artist plotted on a consistent timeline. Gray line is lifetime, white box is active career, each box represents an album. Bruce in the middle – influenced by below, influence to on top:

A lot to unpack in this! I was shocked when I made this at how short and dense The Beatles active and publishing periods were. Still a lot more to think about, but these visualizations set the stage for how we will be approaching the mapping of influence going forward. Let us know what you think!

(Perennial request to 1.) share this post and site with anybody you think would be interested, and 2.) follow us on fb, tw, ig, and 3.) vote.)

%d bloggers like this: