How does an artist's life influence his/her work?
I think what you are asking is whether a person's life influences an autobiographical work or any work. This is a very post-modern question. I would say definitely. One of the insights of postmodernism is that objectivity does not exist, because we are dealing with people who are historically situated and complex in their own views. For this reason all people interpret events through their own life experiences and historical contexts. We can say that they have their own unique perspective. Hence, it is not only a mark of good scholarship, but also honest to admit one's influences and explicitly write from that starting point.
An artist's life can have a huge influence on his/her work. I'm thinking particularly about emotions...how really rough times in life may lead s/he to produce very different kinds of art than when life is going well. Pragmatically, I think the work would also be influenced by the artist's economic status and position in his/her community. An artist friend of mine lives a very fulfilling, yet simple, life in an urban community. You can see marks of his urban experience in his artwork. I don't think he would be the same artist living on a rich, country estate.
One of the reasons I love literature (another form of art) is that so much of an author's experiences are reflected in his work. In addition, his view of the time period he's writing in and about are infused into his writing. The same is true for art. What he sees and hears and thinks about--all part of his world--show up in the colors he chooses, the medium he chooses, and the perspectives he chooses, among other things. No one really lives in a vacuum, so the experiences he lives through are necessarily part of whatever he creates.
We are all an amalgamation of our life experiences. These experiences are reflected in our behavior, or paradigms, our thoughts and emotions, and etc. Art is a means of imitation life regardles of what genre or form the artist uses. Consequently those experiences add flavor to every brush stroke, keystroke, or stroke of a pen.
To offer one concrete example, Virginia Woolf wrote often of suicide and this was how she ended her life. Hemingway also wrote about suicide and died that way, as did Sylvia Plath.
Everything we see, hear, experience, and etc. becomes a part of who we are, and when an artist creates his or her work, those influences are bound to affect the work in some way.
I like to think as art as a form of expression, so depending on what an artist went through in their lifetime, they would want to express that. Thus showing things in their point of view based of their past.
Let me explain using myself as an example. My heritage is that of a Filipino descent and my culture often times plays a very huge role in my paintings and drawings because I will include old folklore or draw people in traditional costume wear. Also, because of my interest in my own culture, I started to take an interest in other cultures as well. For example, we celebrate "All Saint's Day" in the Philippines and it is a similar tradition in Mexico with "Dia de Los Muertos" or "Day of the Dead" and I started to research similarities and differences between the two traditions. Obviously, I took what I researched and incorporated them within whatever art piece I was working on at the time.
Artists take their experiences in life and paint, write, or sing about them to express their feeling on their lives. Their views on life are reflected in the artist's works. The artist's life is what the artist writes/paints/sings about. It's the fundamental element for an artist.
An artist's life influences greatly ones work. Dickens was all too familiar with poverty and could write about it well, but that doesn't mean he could not write about anything else as well too.