I tend to take writing classes from seasoned writers because I like their metacognitive approach to the craft. Besides sharing the nuts and bolts of writing, they volunteer insights I’ve never considered before. I love how one teacher asks questions, and sends us off to find the answers. Another gives us the answers, and sends us off to ask the questions. Some talk about the parallel journeys in writing. The first is the “outer” mechanics of simply getting story onto the page. The second is the “inner” journey that changes us as writers–how the “I” that goes into the writing is not the same “I” who comes out the other side.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been following the advice of a former writing teacher, who recommends delving into other art forms in order to inform our main art. I’ve been playing with paints, dyes, stamps, embossers, glue, and colorful papers. I’ve been following others online who make visual creations, and trying to teach myself what makes something engaging and successful.
I’m discovering that a lot of visual art principles translate to writing. For example, to be interesting, a photograph needs depth. In writing, a story needs depth, too. A tale will get much of its depth and richness from an unstated back story. The clearer the writer is on the backstory, even though he or she only alludes to it, the more depth the story will have.
We see the principle of texture in a hand-knit sweater, bumpy from the sort of yarn and pattern used. Likewise, a story can be textured in many ways. Its characters can be grizzled, kindly, or long-suffering. The landscape can be harsh, lush, or relentlessly unchanging. Actions can be erratic and surprising.
Repetition in visual arts, such as the use of triangular forms, or rectangles that echo the shape of the canvas itself, help us to respond subliminally to a painting. As writers, we can use repetition for foreshadowing, or to strengthen a motif. Fairy Tales have always used the repetition of threes, from characters, to wishes, to bowls of porridge.
Balance usually means a visual piece has focal points that lead the eye from one place to another, without causing it to halt abruptly. This creates a feeling of satisfaction or completion. Balance in a story means that something unsettling will need a period of equilibrium. If there’s an argument, the story will need resolution somewhere. If there’s evil or horror, there must also be hope or humor or justice.
Striving to create successful visual art also helps me to recognize techniques in the art of others. I begin to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and can apply those techniques to my own art, and ultimately, my writing.
I’ll never be a wonderful visual artist. One of my deficiencies is execution. That is, it’s difficult for me to translate what’s in my mind’s eye onto a page. I’m getting better at it, but my writing will always be stronger than my visual art. However, my former writing teacher was right. There is cross-genre pollination, a universality, in artistic techniques, which are necessary but not always apparent, until we begin to use them in their many forms.