Artful Writing

In the film, Starting Out in the Evening, a writer in his sunset years looks slowly through a box of old photographs, examining each one with great care and feeling.  He puts one down in front of him, rests his head on his hand and gazes out the window.  After a moment or two he pushes back from the table, resets his typewriter, and begins to write.

As a student of art history, I find that looking at works of art fosters my own writing creativity.  Some of the same elements of plot, character development, tone, and mood are present in visual art which are also present in the written word.  Writing about works of art is an ancient practice; in ancient Greek it is known as Ekphrasis.  Many famous writers and artists throughout the centuries have engaged in this practice, and it is alive and well now in art journalism, art history, and even more pragmatic fields such as architecture and city planning.

Take a look at the work of art above (Giorgione’s Tempesta. Photo: and come up with a story about it.  Can you identify character traits in the people?  What happened just before the picture, and what is about to happen?  What is the tone of the picture?  If it had a soundtrack, what would it be?  If this picture were a still from a movie, what would the title of the film be?  These questions can go on and on as you open up your imagination to the work.


One thought on “Artful Writing

  1. I assume you’ve read Middlemarch; if you haven’t read it recently, there’s an entire section in which several of the main characters are in Rome, and the writing about the art there–about how it affects a person’s life to be surrounded by all that genius and meaning at once–is interesting. I am taking your lead and allowing more creativity in my classes, even the scientific writing ones (where the genres are largely, or apparently anyway, “set.”) I thought about this post, and now I’m having them respond to videos that are part-art, part-science, like a cartoon description of the Higgs Boson. Keep putting up ideas I can steal! 🙂

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