Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Painting with Words

Years ago, I took a class, Writing for the Arts, that was required for my art major. The instructor taught all of the usual stuff about grammar, clutter and all those things writers need to be aware of. No problem -- I've done writing before, and English was always an easy subject for me.

But the teacher emphasized another tool: writing about things in a way that creates pictures in one's head.

That was a new idea for me, and the concept certainly helped when writing about the museum art exhibits we had to visit and describe. I've used that concept many times since in what I'd call my "serious" writing (as on my Website's artist's statement, which reads like a "What the Desert Means to Me").

But by far, the best example of this writing style occurs in a poem by Sylvia Tryon who wrote about an exhibit of paintings by Maxfield Parrish (if the name doesn't ring a bell, you can see some of his works
here). Sylvia showed not only a descriptive form of discussing the paintings, she also used an incredible richness of vocabulary that writers drool over.

I'm normally not into poetry at all, but this one is both fun and instructive to me. The piece appears in the book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, Alma Gilbert, Pomegranate Artborks, 1990, pg. 74. (Note: Sue Lewin was Parrish's model for many of his paintings).

To Maxfield Parrish

How falls it, painter, that your brushes dye
In blaze of sapphire our pale northern sky
Kindling on sunsmit peaks a lucent forge,
Robing in azure mists each gulf and gorge?
In long forgotten ages, did your soul
Make gorgeous Italy its homeward goal?
Or in some former earth-time did your mind
On Athens' violet hills its temple find?
Or where frozen, silent arctic nights
In flaming aureole stream the elfin lights?
On granite rocks your colors play like morn,
As on Ionian marble rosed with dawn,
In our drab lives should such hues tinge the day,
We scare could deem ourselves of common clay.

I expect in time, I'll cut back on painting somewhat and increase my time on writing. I wonder if I could write a short story -- or even an entire novel -- using nothing but this type of descriptive language? Could I paint with words as I now paint with paint?

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