Family and Artist Trees: Benefits for Creatives

Developing an Artist Family Tree

I discovered Another composition principle, By Hans Hoffman, that is based on color values. It came by surprise from studying what I call my hero Artist’s Family Tree relationships — who were the influences of the modern artists I call my heros?

artist Hans Hofmann book from Ca 1950

The inside of my copy of Hans Hofmann Circa 1950 — very few pix of him but mostly his abstract paintings from the 1950s

Growing up in a farming family: the family history and legacy of the family farms are told and passed down through the generations. The idea of a family tree was introduced to me quite young. My ancestors settled in the Midwest and came from England and Virginia. For more than 200 years our family has developed agri-buisness here; all of it passed through family stories and the idea of passing the legacy of one generation to the next to continue to grow the connections and family wealth. The same can be done for artists. My heros include Wolf Kahn, Henri Mattisse and Edward Degas.

Artists of the Past Influence the Our Creativity

Wolf Kahn liked the work of many artists but my reading and researched made me select these three to work backwards to find their influences three artists at a time

One of my artistic influences, Wolf Kahn, the above family artist tree shows his 12 influential artists on him. I have two other such trees for my other two artist hero’s: Edward Degas and Henri Matisse

As an artist I adopted this idea of legacy to my artist hero’s. I reversed engineered the concept to explore all the hero’s of my art hero’s and all the hero’s that those art heroes admired. I’ve begun collecting kindle biographies, and some hardcover books. My goal is to go back three generations and work forward to my current heros, (sometimes living artists like Wolf Kahn) and try to understand how the twelve artists before Kahn came to influence his work — three heros equals 12 artists for each or 36 artists from the past plus the three influential artists of mine, or 39 artists to study in total. That will keep me off the streets for a while.


Like my farm family, the artist tree is revealing the roots of my  greatest heros artists. In this post, my study of one of Kahn’s heros, Hans Hofmann, revealed to me a composition principle of Push and Pull to add to my artist tool kit. I’m a composition freak and design addict — more on Push and Pull in a later post.

What I want to share is how my study of my artistic heros are creating new discoveries for me. Just like the family biographies my relatives left, the family stories passed down, those in the family that continued the business have a past to reflect upon, use as a reference, and to emulate.

While i did not go into family business, it’s practices of learning from the past, I am finding, holds true for me as an artist. Hofmann was one of the greatest teachers of modern artists. He was responsible for influencing such artists as Willem de Kooning; his list of students includes such notables as Students: Nell Blaine, Wolf Kahn, Richard Stankiewicz, Robert De Niro, Sr., Lee Krasner, Mercedes Matter, Red Grooms, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Allan Kaprow, Jan Muller and Larry Rivers. For me, that’s a good enough list of artists to want to learn more about this man who influenced my favorite of the bunch, Wolf Kahn.

Without this self-guided study or approach, I would have never discovered the concept of Push Pull. This one lone discover makes me eager to explore the other 38 artists in the tree I’ve developed.

What I learned:

  • history helps shape the present and future
  • study of artists other than those I admire, help give me an understanding of who I do admire
  • there are treasures buried in the lives of those that came before us and influenced those we admire.

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