Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Is creating art like writing a book? Discuss.......

I think the development of skills in language and art can provide some interesting parallels
  • first we learn how to make marks using different implements (pencil, pen, brush etc)
  • then we start learning words and how they are spelt (and how to draw objects and use marks to represent them)
  • then we start making sentences and learning grammar (and we also learn the language of making art - how to mix a colour, how to represent values)
  • then we start composing stories - and begin to realise maybe the story needs a beginning, a middle and an end (and we learn how to compose a picture - making choices about what's in and what's not and how objects are arranged within the picture plane - rather than drawing any old group of objects any old how)
  • before long, if we work hard, we can describe things and can write technically accurate language (and we can draw accurately and paint in a precise and "realistic" way - people know what an object is supposed to be)
  • but then we learn to describe our subjects all over again - using metaphor and simile (just as some of us learn to loosen up - drawing loosely, painting impressions, creating moods through the use of tone and colour; maybe including an object to represent an idea or something else important)
  • and then we realise that stories can be more fun or more interesting when we don't tell them in straight lines - but maybe come at a story in an unexpected way (just like when we construct a picture which tells a story - but contains a surprise - if we just look closely enough)
  • some people go on to be seduced by drama and theatrics and begin to write plays and lyrics and maybe libretti (which is we got all those huge classical paintings of major stories and key events and how we continue to be drawn to paintings which tell a story)
  • and finally a few come to the art of poetry - where often the skill lies more in what you only suggest and what you leave out (need I say more?)
What do you think?

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  1. The key difference between reading a story and looking at a painting is that we read a story sentence by sentence, from beginning to end, as Katherine points out. In reading, a person has only a small point of contact with the story at any given moment -- the current sentence. In contrast, someone looking at a painting is exposed to the entire work at one time. Even though only part of the picture may be the center of attention at a given moment, the rest will be seen with peripheral vision. We know that context is very important in vision. Moreover, there is no control over how a person views a picture -- no beginning, middle, or end.

    These differences are paralleled in the process of writing or painting. The writer usually works in a temporal sequence. Even if a story contains shifting time perspectives, within each perspective, there is a normal flow of time; otherwise the piece would be unreadable. A painter, in contrast, is free to work on any part of a picture at a given moment. With the exception of fresco, a painter is not constrained to start at the upper left corner and work to the lower right corner of a picture.

    Thus, a writer and a painter face entirely different constraints on how they work, and on how their work will be experienced.

    These differences break the usefulness of comparing writing and painting -- unless, that is, one finds a way to transfer constraints from one to the other. I have experimented with the idea of how to draw like a writer -- in the sense of working on a picture in a sequential order, so that the point of contact with the work is limited to, in a sense, a visual sentence. This approach can yield remarkable differences in the approach to drawing. From this experience I know that Katherine's comparison of art and language is a productive one.

  2. I wonder where abstract expressionism would fit into your theory.

    Maybe someone with tourettes syndrome espousing nonsense?

  3. Hi John,

    I hesitate about whether you are making a joke or a serious comment. But in either case, you have written something quite interesting. It never occurred to me to try making abstract artwork using a "quasi-writing" approach -- that is, by making contact with the artwork only through a limited window at any given moment. I do not do abstract expressionism, so the lapse is understandable. But for those interested in abstract painting, the parallel to writing could be conceptually quite interesting. The advantage with an abstract work is that it does not have to have an overall realistic coherence -- which is precisely what is difficult to achieve with the drawing technique I experimented with.


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