Maya Ying Lin’s earliest, and most important, influences were close to home during her years growing up in Ohio. Her father was the Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Ohio, and her mother was a professor of Literature at that same institution. With parents deeply grounded in the creative arts, it is not surprising that Maya Lin chose a career path consistent with those of her parents. Lin also grew up with a deep appreciation for her surroundings, and claims to be inspired primarily by the way she views the world around her. The following is from her website:
“Landscape is the context and the source of inspiration for Ms. Lin's art. . . Ms. Lin takes micro and macro views of the earth, sonar resonance scans, aerial and satellite mapping devices and translates that information into sculptures, drawings and environmental installations. Her works address how we relate and respond to the environment, and presents new ways of looking at the world around us. Ms. Lin has consistently explored how we experience the landscape. She has made works that merge completely with the terrain, blurring the boundaries between two- and three-dimensional space and set up a systematic ordering of the land tied to history, language, and time.”
Lin’s influences were shaped also by her experience as an Asian –specifically, Chinese – American in a predominately Caucasian environment. In one interview, she confessed to having “. . . a really hard time with my identity. I think I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be American . . .” Lin continues,
“. . . what is ironic is my work is inspired as much by an eastern sensibility coming from my father and probably my mother. It’s there, but I’ve only recently become really aware of how in a strange way it percolated up . . . My father – everything we lived with at home he made: most of the pots we at off of, a lot of the furniture. He was a master craftsman and the joinery and the detailing was very clean – it was modern. It was the 50’s modernism, but it was also – in its simplicity, in the shapes, in the colors – he was brought up in China so that whole aesthetic.” [www.pbs.org/becomingamerican/ce_witness10.html]
The influences on Lin of her father’s heritage and his approach to design are certainly evident in her best-known project, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The design was consistent with Lin’s vision of how buildings and memorials should fit into the natural surroundings while incorporating a modernist style. Lin herself described her creative process with respect to the memorial as follows:
“I just sort of visualized it. . . It was a beautiful park. I didn’t want to destroy a living park. You use the landscape. You don’t fight with it. You absorb the landscape. . . I wanted something horizontal that took you in, that made you feel safe within the park, yet at the same time reminding you of the dead. So I just imagined opening up the earth.” [www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Vietnam_War_Memorial.html]
In her autobiography, Lin reaffirms the influence on her work of growing up in an Asian-American home with artistic parents who incorporated Asian cultural and artistic values. In addition to those important influences, she adds the woods surrounding the house and nearby Native American burial grounds. There is no question, however, that family and heritage provided the most important influences on her work.