I had a lovely time at Richard Hugo House this Saturday leading my workshop “Looking & Seeing: Generating Prose with Paintings.” Back in December, I did a mini-lesson at Write-O-Rama, where I talked a bit about this concept of using visual art as inspiration and introduced the idea of deciding whether you would work “inside” the painting or “outside” of it – meaning whether the writing refers to the fact that there’s a painting or only focuses on the story within.
In December, we did one exercise focused on stories outside of paintings. This is the prompt I gave: What if a particular painting somehow changed the course of a story? The Picture of Dorian Gray, My Name is Red, and The Idiot are a few examples of novels in which art plays a crucial role in the unfolding of story.
This past Saturday,we focused mainly on working within a painting. We looked at a range of paintings, examining possibilities for the stories behind what was immediately visible through details such as posture, gaze, movement, color, mood, and light. This was the prompt: If we widened our imaginative lens beyond the frame, what might we find? What came before? What comes next? One textual example we discussed briefly was Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, which uses Titian’s painting “Perseus and Andromeda” but is set in England in the 1970s.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s an old favorite short-short of mine: http://cafeirreal.alicewhittenburg.com/szilagyi.htm
I came upon Mihail Sebastian’s novel The Accident while browsing a shelf of Eastern European literature at Powell’s. His fiction is something I’ve wanted to read for some time, and one of his novels is finally available in English, from Biblioasis’s International Translation Series. I love how a well-curated bookstore, whether a tiny jewel box of a store or a heaping megalopolis, can bring books and readers together. And, I love the editors’ credo on the front flap of the book: “The editors believe that translation is the lifeblood of literature, that language that is not in touch with other linguistic traditions loses its creative vitality, and that the worldwide spread of English makes literary translation more urgent now than ever before.” My short review of The Accident is online at Shenandoah.
Last week, I attended ArtistTrust’s Grant Writing workshop, presented by Miguel Guillén. I think it’s going to take some practice before all the advice sinks in. In the meantime, I thought I’d share my notes on writing Artist Statements, which seems to be the most difficult thing, at least for me (for the full presentation, you can go here).
An Artist Statement is a short document (one paragraph to a page), written in the first person, that provides context for your work.
An Artist Statement should be:
- a concise and an accurate reflection your work- its themes, motives, and influences . What does your work continually return to? Why do you do what you do? Where do you fit into your field? This will show you know the landscape and help focus panelists. If your influences are obvious, but you don’t mention them, panelists will wonder.
- in a tone expressive of your work (reserved, analytic, humorous, etc.)- BUT – above all, be SIMPLE, CLEAR, and DIRECT. Ask a friend who is not an artist to read your statement and ask if they get what you do.
It should NOT:
- use jargon, “art speak,” or other convoluted language (an example given was “My work is about elucidating the patriarchal configuration of the social arrangement” vs. “My work is about male-dominated societies”)
- attempt to impress anyone with statements not true to your work
- describe what is obvious in the work
- be about yourself (focus instead on the work and its process)
- tell the reader how he or she will feel
Guillén also advised attendees to keep more than one version of the Artist Statement and update it as the work changes, as it inevitably will. Language should be consistent within the statement, but also consistent with any other supporting documents (for example, work samples and work descriptions). Also, and this one’s important: don’t be afraid. Write what you really think is going on in your work, what most compels you to create something.