In each of my novels, published and as yet unpublished, I have a character who loves visual art. James, the protagonist of The Golden Hour, has a passion for graphic design. Meg, the anti-hero of my unfinished adult dystopian trilogy, loves visiting art galleries and her daughter is a professional artist. In my YA time travel novel, Evernow, one of the two narrators, Emmi, loves to draw nature.
I ask myself why this is a sub-theme in my fiction. The most prosaic reason is that visual art was a significant influence in my birth family. The deeper, perhaps truer, reason is that art and creative writing are close cousins.
I recently curated a community visual art event. It was not something I am formally qualified for or ever expected to do. But it was an uplifting experience and, though I say it myself, a great success.
The success was in measures of artist and audience engagement in the context of a faith community that hasn’t given any attention to the visual art makers in their midst. It was a revelation to many that so many were so capable and so inspired to create art. The artists felt they were now seen, something they value is more recognised, and their joy shared. It was a community-building experience.
In current Western culture, or at least in Australia, art is seen as a pleasant hobby for those so inclined, and only valuable in terms of money and fame (relevant to a very small subset of artists). The value of the process is paid lip service or relegated to ‘therapy’, and its benefits in all other areas of human endeavour are overlooked.
I do not make visual art. My parents did, my adult children do, even my husband does on occasions. But visual images are the backbone of good writing. A wordsmith must be able to see in her imagination, and describe in words that paint the images in the minds of the readers. The more a writer appreciates visual art and grows her ability to truly see (which is the first critical element of producing visual art), the better her capacity to evoke imagination in her readers.
I tend to write with a focus on the mind and emotions of characters. It’s akin to creating abstract art – less about the physical world, more about experience. Nevertheless the material world is the source for the swathes of colour, line and form that express inarticulate emotion in a way someone else can ‘catch’:
Do you engage visually with written story? Does it play like a movie in your imagination? Do the images remain after the words are forgotten? I’d love to hear how the combination of vision and word work for you.