Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Art's Influence on Writing

I would like to start this post by showing you a picture of a naked boy. You can thank Booknapped for inspiring this burst of nudity.

My mother loathes this picture. Which would be why I have it hanging over the fireplace in my living room.

That's not the (only) reason why I hung this painting up in the most prominent place in my house. Love Locked Out is Anna Lea Merritt's masterpiece and sole contribution to the Pre-Raphaelite movement. It also happens to sincerely be my favorite painting. I discovered it in a round-about way: first I found Dante Gabriel Rosetti through Beata Beatrix, which, of course, led to all that scandalous stuff about Lizzie Siddal, which led to Ophelia, which led to me buying books about the Pre-Raphaelites, which led to me being even more fascinated with England, which led to me studying abroad in London, which led to me standing in front of this picture and having the beauty of it stealing my breath in the Tate Museum of Art in London.

See, Pre-Raphaelite art is all about the symbolism. And this picture--Love Locked Out--was the first time that I looked at a piece of art and "got it," the first time I understood why art was really worth it all.

Take a look at it again. Heck, it's so beautiful, let's just post it again:

On the outside, it looks like a naked child (probably a boy) standing in front of a door, unable (apparently) to get in.

And it's beautiful in its own right. Even if you don't like naked boys, it's still a beautiful painitng, isn't it?

Then, add the title: Love Locked Out. Now you can see that the boy represents Love, and he's locked out. Look at the details: a lamp, shattered on the ground. No light there--no hope there. A crushed rose on the ground, a vine of roses more thorn than flower. Dead leaves scattered on the ground.

Dig a little deeper and you learn that Merritt painted this after her husband died.

That Love is locked out of the tomb.

That the only thing Love cannot conquer is Death.

Booknapped posits (along with Hemingway) that we have a lot to learn about writing from art. And we do. A technically well written novel is like a technically beautiful painting. It's good--but what's the point? Add in those details--the broken lamp, the crushed rose--and you add depth, substanance, meaning to your work. Sure, it takes a lot of work just to get to the finished painting. But it takes so much more to get to the finished painting that will make a study abroad study cry in the Tate Museum.

So, what's your favorite piece of art--and how does it inspire your writing?
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