An investigation into the impact of the visual arts on literature
Frederic Tuten on Matisse
Paintings appear in all my novels and stories. Here is one, Matisse’s The Dance, as reflected upon by the character, Tintin, in my the novel: Tintin in the New World. In this case, a character speaks for me, and I hope that this instance suggests what I find and why I use paintings in my fiction.
“A large Matisse canvas drew him back many times. There figures nude and free danced on a field of blue, women and men, their arms held above them, hands joined in a whirling slow dance through the sluggish air of time. Of youth and life it made him think, naturally; of the dance of life, too, and the way that the dance slows and speeds; of joy and its sad twin it made him think: and finally, and at the heart, of Clavdia, death and beauty it made him think.”
Frederic Tuten is the author or five novels and most recently a book of inter-related short stories, several about artists, Self Portraits: Fictions (Norton, 2010).
Matisse by Pierre Schneider
Caroline Leavitt on Richard Kattman
I had been struggling with a new novel, trying to coax it to stretch its legs and take some steps, when I saw this painting on Facebook. It got to me. It seemed to be unfurling inside of me and the more I stared at it, the more I loved it. It was pure emotion, pure feeling–the kind of thing I try to be lost in when I write. So I tracked down the painter, Richard Kattman, and we talked and got to know each other, and he ended up giving me the painting! It now hangs in my living room and every writing day, I go down and look at it, just to jumpstart that deep well of feeling.
Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You. Her new novel, Is It Tomorrow, will be published in May by Algonquin books.
West of the Ocean by Richard Kattman
Stuart Dybek on visual nocturnes
Music is the art that’s exerted the most influence on my writing. For me the key component of music’s power to cast a spell comes from its evocation of mood, and mood, of course, figures prominently in the visual arts. Both music and painting produce works called nocturnes. Nocturnes in painting and photography have made me want to write as a way of inhabiting their atmospheric nighttime worlds. When given an opportunity to choose cover art for two of my books, I chose Tunis Ponsen’s Chicago Silhouettes for The Coast of Chicago, and for Streets in Their Own Ink, a book of poems, I chose a nocturne that hangs in the National Museum in Cracow, Horse-drawn Carriage at Night by Jozef Pankiewicz. I don’t think of nocturnes as paintings about darkness. They’re about light-moons, spans of illuminated bridges, kerosene streetlamps ringed in mist, city streets shimmered by the first electric bulbs. Has any impressionist painted light that’s more haunting than the glow of the greasy spoon in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks? When I became yet another writer to model a story on Hopper’s iconic nocturne, it was that impossible throw of light that compelled me to enter.
Horse-drawn Carriage at Night by Jozef Pankiewicz
Roxane Gay on Roy Lichtenstein
The work of Roy Lichtenstein always makes me stop and stare and think. I love the unabashed pop of his art, the bright colors and bold lines and cultural conversation implied in each canvas. While I love all of his work, Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl is my favorite. There is something he captures in that painting, that striking image of a woman, tears cresting her eyelids, her perfectly coiffed blue hair, as she wallows in a stormy sea of distress and still refuses to call the unseen Brad for help. That painting always reminds me that every good story needs one perfectly captured moment. In Drowning Girl, there is such a moment and we're not quite sure what brought that moment about but the possibilities are infinite and intriguing and that is an energy I always want to bring into my writing.
Roxane Gay's fiction appears this fall in Best American Short Stories 2012.
Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY
Lichtenstein, Roy (1923-1997) © Copyright. Drowning Girl. 1963. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67 5/8 x 66 3/4"
(171.6 x 169.5 cm). Philip Johnson Fund (by exchange) and gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bagley Wright. May have restrictions. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, U.S.A.
Martine Bellen on Hayo Miyazaki
The animation of Hayao Miyazaki—My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle—his light-crafted renderings of the liminal, of vibrant spirits issuing forth from the sentient and nonsentient (animated as only an animist is able) enthuses my imagination. His visual candy bowl of dreams reminds me that my eyes tend to trust what they easily see—the limited story. Miyazaki visually depicts the vitality behind the tale. I am reminded through his work what I know when I read Shakespeare, that finding the numina is the artist’s real work.
Martine Bellen’s The WABAC Machine is forthcoming this spring.
Still from the movie Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki
Charles Salzberg on Hopper and Picasso
There are several, but two come to mind. Edward Hopper and Pablo Picasso. Hopper, because in the simplest of ways he got to the heart of man's loneliness and aloneness. His portrait of a diner late at night, or the image of a woman in a window, speak to that. And Picasso, because he was not afraid to take chances, to break things apart and put them back together again, so they appeared not to fit but did. That's what I try to do in writing: throw hand grenades into a situation and see what happens.
Charles Salzberg's next novel, Swann Dives In, will be published in October. He teaches at the Writers Voice and New York Writers Workshop.
Picasso by Ingo F. Walther
Tom Bradley on Nick Patterson
My latest book, Family Romance was inspired in the most literal sense by a visual artist. Nick Patterson’s 90 pictures came first, and I wrote the novel around, between, underneath and through them. One day I came upon a great stack of his artwork and was instantaneously locked in. Each image presented a climactic moment in a strange, unspoken, yet definite story. Nick’s drawings and paintings are like the hallucinations of epileptic mystics as preserved in icons and illuminated hagiographies. They rear up in the aether before your eyes, bristling their spikes of light, needing no context but themselves. Yet they insist that a whole chronicle be imaginatively filled in, to perform the impossible task of explaining how these bizarreries came to be juxtaposed.
Tom Bradley's next book, with secret name and hidden nature, inspired and illustrated by another visual artist, David Aronson, is coming next year from Mandrake of Oxford.
Strawberry Jam by Nick Patterson
Jane Ciabattari on Helene Aylon
Helene Aylon, a visual artist whose work I came to know when we were fellows together at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, has influenced my work in many ways. Her process fascinates me. She is not afraid to deal with political and ecological themes, or to change the path her art takes. She is technically rigorous, yet continuously experimental.
Jane Ciabattari is the author of a story collection, Stealing the Fire. The Literarian published her story "Shanghai Blues," part of a second collection, which, along with a novel-in-process, is keeping her up at night.
Helen Aylon: Self Portrait 2005, from the series, Self Portraits 2005-07
Roberta Allen on Bill Viola
It is the act of looking, the interaction between me and the work of art that is perhaps my primary inspiration as a writer and artist. Later, I try to translate the initial aliveness I felt into words that usually have nothing to do with the art per se but have been unconsciously triggered by it. The works of Bill Viola, Kiki Smith, Sophie Calle, and Hiroshi Sugimoto easily come to mind.
Video still from Ocean Without a Shore by Bill Viola