Johannes’s comment here reminded me of something I was mulling over this morning. Often one comes to a work of art backwards, tracing out lineages in reverse chronological order. In particular, one often approaches older works through the more contemporary, popular artworks they inspired.
For example, when I was in high school, I saw certain music videos that Adam Jones made for Tool:
That led me to the Brothers Quay:
(I think I saw an interview with Jones where he mentioned really liking the Quays.)
That led me to Jan Svankmajer:
(I think I saw an interview with the Quays where they mentioned really liking Svankmajer.)
Of course, the way it really happened was that Svankmajer influenced the Quays, who in turn influenced Jones. (And of course it’s more complicated than that, and of course each artist brought in other influences as well. For instance, I doubt Bruno Schulz is as important to Svankmajer and Jones as he is to the Quays.)
Similarly, I heard John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Revolution No. 9” (in late grade school):
…long before I heard Stockhausen’s Hymnen (in college):
…as I think has been the case for most people.
Well, one could think of one hundred such examples. The basic point is that we teach art history one way (chronologically), but we experience most art a-chronologically. (The exception is the art we watch being made in the here and now, which might explain why fans often get so upset at the notion of future artists ripping off beloved contemporary artists, when they have little concern with how the beloved artists of today have ripped off—I mean, have been influenced by—older artists.)
N.B.: I don’t really want to repeat the false notion that all innovation proceeds from the high, fine arts to the low, popular arts; nor do I even want to claim a clear distinction between the fine and popular arts. Nor do I think the fine arts necessarily high, the popular arts necessarily low. There are many hybrids, and transferences in all different directions. (See here for an example of how an idea passed from Victor Hugo to Mark Twain, German Expressionism, the Batman franchise, J.D. Salinger, Donald Barthelme, William Castle, and Ghost in the Shell.)