Influential People 2000

Five Influential People

Robert with Piero Scaruffi, January 2000, for an Italian magazine article


Robert, I have to write the 120th article on you.

And you aren’t totally sick of me yet?

If you had to name the 5 most influential humans on you, who would they be? I know one (Gaudi). How about writers, painters, scientists, musicians…? And why, of course.

Now your putting words in my mouth! What makes you think Gaudi would be in the top five? :) To be honest, he’s definitely up there in the top 10, and the exact list of top 5 can change with context or mood. Of course, I don’t forget the individual close friends and family who have shaped my personality, but I imagine you are looking for the creative-influence side of the question.

Ok, here goes, but remember, it could change in ten minutes…

Alan Watts

I discovered his writings and lectures at a pivotal time in my life when I was hungry for deeper questions and a clearer mirror into myself. I was only 13 years old, and his writings provided that perfectly timed nudge that can quietly redirect a person’s life. He was not the greatest of mystics, nor even the clearest of thinkers, but he asked the right questions, and he did it with a humor and playfulness that still resonates within me.

Jorge Louis Borges

His short stories gave me an example to ponder, about the importance of the unknowable, about the truths that can surface from an unanswerable puzzle. I learned from him that great art plants a seed that can grow within the mind’s eye into a forest of new understanding. Just as the best teachers can help students to learn how to learn, to soon begin thinking for themselves, I came to realize through Borges that deeper art does not pretend to deliver truths; rather, it asks questions that exercise within us the mechanisms for feeling the resonance of truth.

Yves Tanguy

Both Tanguy and Max Ernst showed me that I was not alone in visualizing and living within my particularly visceral and tangible internal landscape. Yet among all the Surrealists, Tanguy was painting the forms that I felt and heard. He may not have had the technical virtuosity of Dali (nor the showmanship) yet his quiet mental landscapes managed to depict my own thoughts. They show an ocean floor littered with the detritus of the same objects that inhabit my own inner sound-world. This discovery helped me feel less alone, and gave me the confidence I needed to express myself.

Andrei Tarkovsky

Like Tanguy, my connection to Tarkovski is based on a convergence of internal iconography. For me, Tarkovsky is to film-making what Bach was to music: complete, subtle, serious, multilayered, humanistic and simultaneously mystical, reaching for God within the constraints of human frailty. At every level of his work I sense a yearning for the Essence, for the Highest. His work is nutritious to my spirit, and he inspired me to strive to create a body of work that could be similarly nutritious.

Terry Riley

Shri Camel changed me. Among all the great music that he and others have composed, it’s hard to select any single piece of music that had a dominant influence. Yet, I keep returning to Shri Camel as a reference point. Along with Terry’s compositional work, I respect him for his openness, gentleness, curiosity, humility, and other traits that make him an all-around good person. In many ways, it’s these human traits that inform all his work, and resonate positively outside of the narrow sphere of music.

One thing that unites all of these people, and others whose work I respect, is that they all follow an idiosyncratic inner voice, and seem to successfully communicate some essential elements of their world to others, without apology and with great craftmanship.