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?

16 comments:

Marie Devers said...

Marie from Booknapped, here. I LOVE your post!

For one thing, inspiring bursts of nudity is one of my goals in life. Second, I love how you compare details of paintings to details of stories. It's so true; each tiny detail helps to reveal another aspect of the story. You have to look closer.

Third, well, I'm always happy to be introduced to a new work of art. Love Locked Out is incredibly beautiful, but even more haunting when you consider the true story behind it.

I don't have a favorite piece of art--too many I love, but when I'm stuck for a story idea, I head to the museum for inspiration. More than once I've stolen my characters from paintings.

MeganRebekah said...

I have to hang my head in shame and admit that I know absolutely nothing about art, and I can't think of any piece that has specifically influenced my writing. But I will think on it!
And I love your explanation of your choice!

Robyn Campbell said...

Beautiful post. Beautiful thoughts. You're deep today. This painting might become my fav painting. My first choice has always been, Seascape At Saintes-Maries, just because it gives me a most peaceful feeling and I can get lost looking at it. After all, I am from the Keys.

A lot of stories have been born from that painting. Van Gogh captures my eye in everything he has ever done. He was tragic. A mad genius who died way too early. Alas, I'd better get some writing done. Be sending it to you soon. I promise.

B.J. Anderson said...

Great post!! And I always find myself staring at M.C. Escher's work. My favorite is Three Worlds.

Michelle said...

I have a small framed photo of a gorilla on my writing desk. Nature inspires me and the picture reminds be about the connection to nature, and how close we are to it. It also reminds me of how much we disrespect nature and how disensitized we have become to our care and impact on all living things around us - that makes me angry. So that little picture elicits emotions and inspiration and those are things that start the creative juices pumping.

PJ Hoover said...

Wow. Very deep! I'm nowhere near so thinky!

I've been putting up Michael Whelan prints around the house. Loving them. My favorite is Sentinels which actually inspired part of THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD.

Lady Glamis said...

I love your post. It's beautiful! I like it so much I linked over to it in my blog post today. :)

One of my favorite paintings is Miranda and the Tempest.

I believe there should be meaning and substance to everything I write and read. That is what makes it worth it to me. Sheer entertainment is fun, but the rewards that come from the depth are boundless.

Amy Tate said...

Oh Miss Beth! I love that line about your mother! Wouldn't that be a terrific opening scene? Some girl and her mother arguing over the painting in her first apartment? I love it! I don't have an actual inspirational piece of art. However, I do have the painting in my head, does that count? I'm a huge Edith Wharton fan. I would love to have a painting of her, but I've never been able to find one.

Davin Malasarn said...

Lovely post, Beth. My favorite painting is "Girl With The Pearl Earring" by Vermeer. It's a picture of a girl looking over her shoulder. I always liked the way it looked, but then I had a teacher point out how precise the timing of the painting was. There's speculation that the girl was caught off guard, which is why she's looking over her shoulder instead of posing properly. And, her lower lip glistens, suggesting that the woman was having some impure thoughts in this moment when she was daydreaming. I love that we can learn so much from a "still frame" and I try to use that idea when I'm coming up with my own details.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I came here through a link on Lady Glamis' blog. This is lovely, and you have inspired me to photograph some contemporary art I own and post about why I love it.
I have had a love affair with art for as long as I remember. As a student I bought postcards of pieces in museums, since that was all I could afford. I don't think I could pick a favorite piece but a favorite moment might be standing in the Uffizi and swiveling my head between Leonardo's Annunciation and Botticelli's. Unbelievable. And there was an exhibit of Van Gogh's work in Paris that left me weak-kneed, as well. Thanks for this post.

Kelly H-Y said...

Oh my goodness ... what a beautiful post. That picture tugged at my heart ... even before you mentioned the broken vase, etc. ... it seemed so sad to me. Then, when you explained it further ... it made my heart ache.

Danyelle said...

I love the way you compared writing to the painting. That's the kind of stories I love to read the most--those with a story within a story. I don't know much about classical art, but I love looking at pictures and imagining the stories behind them. :D

Nakabunot Kay said...

I remember taking up 3 units of Humanities in college. We always had art gallery visitations and our interpretations of the painting and other arts stuff. When I was trying to get into the School of the Arts, I researched for art college admission essay help that will increase the chance of being accepted. Now that I am in grad school, I've realized that I love abstract painting more. It opens up my senses and brings me to a world of endless interpretations. It inspires me to embrace the loyalty to the written words.

Sheri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheri said...

Beth, Sorry. I had to delete my first attempt. It's late and I'm tired...

This posting is really great and very inspiring. I love symbolism in art. My favorites for some reason are from Modigliani. You know the artist that paints the pupil-less people with long necks. I don't know what I love about his art, but I do. I also always loved Andrew Wyeth as well. but not Christine where she's sitting awkwardly in the grass staring up at the house. Once you know why she's sitting there, it looses it's beauty and just becomes plain sad. But I like his wispy world where the wind blows through lacey curtains. There are many other artists I love too but too many to mention here.

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