The biographical passion
Nature might be defined as anything which presents itself as fact—that includes all art other than one’s own. And after a while, one’s own too, if one begins to be detached from it and influenced by it, which happens to almost every artist. Nature does not imitate art; it devours it. If one does not want to paint a still-life or a landscape or a figure now, one can paint an Albers or a Rothko or a Kline. They are all equally real visual phenomena of the world around us. That is, there is a point where any work stops being a human creation and becomes environment—or nature.
There is also a point of course, where environment can be turned back into an idea. At the point of exchange between nature and the idea that makes art, the question of influence arises…Western art is built on the biographical passion of one artist for another: Michelangelo for Signorelli; Rubens for Michelangelo; Delacroix for Rubens; Cézanne for Poussin; the Cubists for Cézanne; and Picasso, the philanderer, for anyone he sees going down the street. That something new in art cannot come into existence despite influence is a ridiculous idea, and it goes hand in hand with an even more ridiculous idea: namely that something totally new, not subject to any influence, can be created…Any artist, however, who looks only into his own life for his ideas is still going to find the irresistible ideas of other artists there.
—Elaine de Kooning, “Subject: What, How, or Who?”