Sunday, May 28, 2006

Painting the Picture



Wonder sometimes if I lack some element of essential creativity.
I have to root my scenes in reality, base them on a facet of my own or known experience, tie them to the concrete of the everyday.
Perhaps what I lack is the capacity for honest bullshit.
As a case in point, I use paintings in the second novel of Damie Tempest's travels in time to illustrate - by her ownership - facets of her personality and to provide a motif for the mystery that surrounds her.
So what paintings do I use?

Did I go cruising through art sites for Great Paintings to add a recognizable universality? And to suggest, furthermore, that Damie has money, refinement and taste?
Nah.
No Monets.
I plunked in two off my walls.
The first shows a casement window open to a disappearing path beyond a sweet and static bowl of apple blossoms. The other is like a pool in Narnia along a forest ride.
No name art, barely above mall quality, picked up probably at a yard sale.
Maybe what I am is lazy.
And very declasse.
Usually any paintings, whether oil, watercolour or acrylic, that appear in fiction are strangely avant- garde, Old Masters, or painted/drawn by some remarkable but unrecognized genius.
The beautiful woman whose eyes follow you around the room.
The gallery of ancestors with the rakish forefather who bears a remarkable resemblance to the present hero.
The Harrowing of Hell/pagan rite/supernatural type with demons /gargoyles/warlocks that foreshadow horror.
Pictures may represent important plot points or the central focus, ie. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Paintings in fiction may operate as a version of the key, the artifact, the portal as it were.

Do you remember a story where a painting was depicted so forcefully that you came away wishing you possessed it?
Or one so vivid it made the story remarkable?

19 comments:

December Quinn said...

I don't remember anything about paitnings in any books, but I do know I'm just as lazy and wil go to extraordinary lengths not to do extra research. I'm writing my second book set in South Florida, even though I hate South Florida, just because I lived there and so don't have to actually do any work to set a book there.

Bernita said...

You're a fellow miscreant then , December.
May also be based on a desire for a kind of veracity

Rick said...

Like december, I can't actually recall any painting described in a book as having evocative significance.

As for places, I make them up all the time, but the elements that go into them are surely swiped from things that I've seen, mixed and matched in various ways.

Dennie McDonald said...

can't say that I do - though there have been books w/ art in general depicted as a motive but honestly I didn't pay that much attention to it.

to me art is what you pull out of the picture - I never see what others do and so reading I also tend to get the odd thing and not the obvious one that every one else seems to get...

- as to laziness - as often as possible! =)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick and Dennie.
I suppose art as a plot point belongs more to the thriller/mystery category - stealing the Mona Lisa or The Scream, for example.

kmfrontain said...

Original visual art hasn't played a big factor in my work unless you count the effect of every fantasy movie I've ever seen, all the way back to the early Jason and the Argonaut type movies, the Sinbad movies, and even Planet of the Apes. And, oh yes, all those illustrated fairy tale, Greek myth books I read growing up. Then yes, I've been heavily influenced by visual art.

Flood said...

Isn't it amazing how Dorian Gray became a real symbol for people wearing their debauchery/sins/bad choices on the their faces? It's become part of my lexicon to refer to it about people when I watch COPS.

Carla said...

Only 'The Protrait of Dorian Gray', which doesn't really count as an example because the portrait is arguably a major character. I don't have a very visual imagination, I think. I do the same as you and Rick and invented places are always based on somewhere real.

Bernita said...

Probably why your prose is so rich, KM.

I wonder if the book could be viewed as an extension of physiognomy philosophy, Flood, though I forget when that was popular.

It's been years since I read it, Carla, I believe I viewed it more as a mirror. Nevertheless, "portrait" or character it is essential to the plot.

Perhaps writers do not construct out of whole cloth and instead use samples everywhere from life.

Carla said...

Thank you for pointing out my duff spelling, Bernita :-) D'oh. Spelling checkers make one lazy.

Bernita said...

Huh?
I never even noticed that.
I'm not such a hypocrite.
I "" portrait because it was part of the title, that's all.
I have dyslexic fingers and a loose grasp at the best of times.

kmfrontain said...

Thanks, Bernita. :D

archer said...

Wonder sometimes if I lack some element of essential creativity.

Nonsense. I doubt anyone would call Dickens lacking in some essential element of creativity, yet Dickens often wouldn't put pen to paper unless he'd gone and seen what's what for himself (he told a lawyer friend to take him to watch a certain nasty judge so he could write a scene in Oliver Twist).

There is a passage early in David Copperfield (end of Ch. III) describing the boats at Yarmouth. I can't remember where Turner's Blue Lights Off Great Yarmouth is hung--the National Gallery in Washington, I think--but I read that Dickens got his description from the painting. I've seen the painting and it looks like Dickens's description ("the sun, away at sea, just breaking through the heavy mist, and showing us the ships like their own shadows"). Okay, better.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Archer, for that excellent example.
You brightened my day.

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Alan Fisk said...

My last novel, "Cupid and the Silent Goddess", imagines the creation of Bronzino's "Allegory with Venus and Cupid" in Florence in 1544-5.

I'd always been fascinated by it, and I thought it would be fun to make up my own explanation of it, and make up characters who modelled for the strange figures.

For details, see:
http://www.twentyfirstcenturypublishers.com/index.asp?PageID=496

Bernita said...

At last, a specific example.
Thank you, Alan!
If you can write that kind of book, you have imagination and insight to burn.
Please join in.

Alan Fisk said...

The only problem with writing a novel about the painting is that whenever I see it I have to remind myself that the people in the painting are not the characters that I imagined as the models. Especially when I look at the original in the National Gallery in London, I find myself thinking "I've really ruined that painting for myself by making up a story about it!".

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