The literary term for describing in words what you see in a picture is ekphrasis. The practice can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, through the Renaissance and the works of the Romantic poets, all the way into literature of the 19th century. Typically, the word ekphrastic is applied to poetry.
|Creating collage with Judy Verhoeven|
But fiction writers, too, can derive inspiration from physical works of art. Herman Melville uses ekphrasis in Moby-Dick...Taking the practice a step further, visual images can become actual prompts for an entire story or novel.
|Eric Benjamin demonstrates the art of dragon drawing|
Whatever medium you choose— from painting to sculpture, pottery to pencil illustrations—art can trigger a story inside of you. Here are some ideas for finding your own ekphrastic story starter:
*Wander through a museum *Browse an art collection online*Visit a local gallery *Check out a book of art history from the library*View a collection of poster prints online or in a store.(Carol's addition: Visit your local arts camp or school!)
The old aphorism “a picture is worth a thousand words” is most often attributed to Arthur Brisbane, a famous newspaperman. In 1911, Brisbane urged members of the Syracuse Advertising Men’s Club, “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” He believed in catching a reader’s attention fast and forcefully. Don’t waste your time fumbling for words, he was saying, when an image can get the job done better. Inadvertently, perhaps, Brisbane was setting up pictures and words as opposing forces. Ekphrastic fiction reunites the two, as a picture can actually produce a thousand words.
Ekphrasis and...Music?If Brisbane is correct, how many words do these videos inspire?
Jeff Holland led Drums and Shakers
Drum Set and Snare Drum
with Dr. Gary Robinson
Beginning Guitar with
Instructor Mia Hartley Phillips said second and third graders created this dance following a discussion of music evoking emotions.
With tail unfurled
claws paw the air.
in vestments of turquoise, purple,
red and orange.
You dwelled in a canvas cave
until life breathed in you through
chunks of clay
into a fierce monster
or a bird sitting on her nest.
Imagination turns paper
scraps into sunflowers,
blue and pink fragments
swirls swathes of filmy cloth
a young girl is a fantastical creature
hatched from an egg
in search of her sister.
Art begets art.
Lovely post, Carol. I do believe that there's a natural cross-pollination between the arts (and science too). The piano playing and scribbling/doodling helps me to write.
Thanks, Vijaya! Obviously I agree!
What lovely work is going on there! Thanks for this post.
Thanks, Rosi, for taking the time to visit my blog. Glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks for these "art appreciation" posts, Carol. Love the word ekphrastic! I always seek out any visual material I can find for world building of my historical fiction. Advice for writers from me: "If you can't see it, you can't write it."
thanks, Clara. Yes-- I'm pretty visual too. I had to find a house one of my protagonists lived in, in order to be able to picture it!
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