Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"The Artist's Loving Hand..."

Words are a writer's medium, like paint is to the artist. Writers create their worlds using words. Broad strokes, short strokes - all to portray a meaning or a feeling by description. An artist uses the faintest umber to give depth or a clear white to show closeness of surface. A writer crafts the feelings of happiness, sadness or anger through words ranging from dark to light. Artists and writers are similar because they both are trying to convey a story, whether on paper or canvas. Both want to show their view of their world.

I have a print in my living room by Vincent Van Gogh which touches my soul with his story. It is not one of his more famous works and is probably unknown to you. Called "Pink and White Roses," the work is a montage of pinks, whites, greens and blues with a slight touch of dark reds. When I look at it I imagine I can sense the joy which Van Gogh felt when he painted it. Perhaps for a time in his troubled life, I like to imagine, he experienced the beauty of the roses and was happy. And that is what I perceive from the painting - profound happiness. On close examination, the abrupt brush strokes and the jarring fever of the artist is evident. No peace or serenity exists in the frenetic strokes with which he painted to capture the scene before the colors faded and the petals dropped. But, if you step back and allow the entire work to coalesce before your eyes, the beauty and serenity creeps in, filling you with the child-like ecstasy he must have harbored when he gazed at that simple vase with its overflowing colors. Understand, if you look too closely, you cannot see the miracle he painted.

The same is true of what we write. To perfect our work, we take classes and listen to lectures. We concentrate on the minutiae. Great attention is paid to the grammar, the syntax, the punctuation and the proper way to write in order to please an agent or an editor. After all, this is a business and we must strive to please the market.

I still pause to think of Van Gogh who never received recognition during his life for his work but is now considered one of the Masters of Impressionism.

We strive to be perfect, centering on the smallest of details to make sure everything is correct. But, if we step back from our work and view the entire story can we see the beauty of what we have created? Does our story fill the reader with emotions? With the basic sense of the work - the STORY?

I sometimes feel bogged down by the miniscule and the mundane of writing. Does the sentence work or is the chapter properly in the right point of view? I think that when that happens to us we should take a step back and allow our stories to coalesce before us. Never forget that, even though it is a craft, writing is also an art. The ART of STORYTELLING. Don't lose sight of the wondrous tale you have in your head. Believe in your story and tell it well, with emotion and heart, not programmed grammar. All the jarring little strokes of those computer keys paint a bigger, more beautiful tale - exactly as Van Gogh did with his oils and brush. The broader picture is, after all, just a sum of the whole.

"We spend our whole lives in unconscious exercise of the art of expressing our thoughts with the help of words." - Vincent Van Gogh.

What do you do when you are overwhelmed with the sameness of your story or the intricacies of your work? Have you ever thrown your hands up in exasperation, forgetting that thought in your head which made the story wonderful? How do you revive the artist within you when the mundane threatens to take over?


  1. Funny you should mention this Cheryl--I just had this moment this week. I am at the end of the story (finally) and finishing it off really has me throwing up my hands. Now is the time to wrap things up, add in new info for the next story...and I am thinking everything I write is awful.

    But, paraphrasing Nora Roberts, you can't fix a blank page. I keep writing because I know if I don't its easy never to pick it back up. The hard part is working through these tough spots and finishing the painting...:)

    And I'm a tenacious sort.

  2. When I am feeling overwhelmed by things I try to step back. I thought about that when I was reading what you wrote about the Pink Roses painting. Like the painting, when viewed up close and in detail my life is usually frantic and feverish but if I can step back the perspective changes and I can see the joy and beauty that my life is fun of!

  3. Mary, I too go through the "everything is awful" and glance longingly at the delete button. But I at least have my story down and that is definitely a start. I love the quote because she's right. You can't fix it if it's not there. Keep painting your picture, I know it will be a masterpiece!!!

    Exactly Stephanie! I think we tend to only see the small things and not the entire picture - the blessings. The way we view things, our perspectives, is what makes the difference. I guess what I was trying to say is we don't need to lose sight of what we are doing - telling a story. The same holds true for our lives - we may do all those frantic things but in the end we should appreciate how wonderful our lives really are!!

  4. Cheryl, this post has come at an interesting time. I'm reading through my book yet again to make sure the full sings as much as possible, but I have grown weary of its constant presence in my mind. However, I'm reading it aloud while alone, and getting the words "out there" gives me the step-back perspective I need to love it again. I can hear the melody that originally inspired me to tell the story, and that keeps me from casting it aside in favor of a fresh canvas.

  5. Ah! Van Gogh! He was a tortured soul, to be sure. The problem with artists is we feel too much. Too much? Yes, we are in sync with the world. We cry when the world cries, we scream when others scream (or our characters scream at us!). Empathy. Artists are full of it. And what a wonderful thing to be filled with, right? Expressing the joys, fears, vision of our world helps us to deal with the world as it is. Maybe that's why I love history so much. As an outsider looking in, I have the benefit of knowing what happened inside that era but also can see the consequences.

    When I went to art school, I met people of every persuasion. But we all had something in common, we had a vision of our world and we worked hard to bring that world to light. No matter what you do in life, you can offer the world a glimpse of your soul by sharing your passions of art, reading, music, etc...

    The fear of being misunderstood may stand in the way, but Van Gogh taught us something we should never forget, to soldier on. Though his genius went unrecognized until after his death, he taught us that perseverence is key. Someday, someone, somewhere will understand the world as you see it. ;)

    Great post, Cheryl!

  6. Very cool, Cheryl! And so very true. I, too, struggle to see my work as a whole. So many times, I think the whole is just made up of all the little mistakes. :( Stepping back and gaining that perspective really isn't possible for me with my own creations. But at least I can start to see each small part as more than what I did wrong. :)

  7. When I am feeling overwhelmed, I cut my ear off. I can't afford to get overwhelmed many times, considering the number of ears we are allotted.

    Sorry. I am punchy.

  8. Crystal, you have a way with words! I love how you use them and good luck with your revisions. I KNOW this book is good! ;)

    Danniele, when we're so invested in our stories, it's hard for us to see the big picture, just like it is for us to see what one year from now will bring when we're faced with problems today. Concentrating on pieces of the puzzle will always lead us to the whole. :)

    LMAO, Jean! Remind me not to overwhelm you. ;) Here's wishing you a life without trouble and perfect hearing. ;)

  9. Uh, that should read I'm wishing you a life with perfect hearing... ;)

  10. Sorry everyone, my Internet went down along with my land line - Arghh!!!
    Got me a MiFi which is great for just such emergencies!!!

    Crystal - I like the idea of reading it aloud so you can hear the lyrics of your voice. That is exactly what I was saying. We need to listen to what we write so we can remember what was so wonderful about what it.

    I love Van Gogh Kathy. He never ceases to amaze me that all those wildly painted strokes can come together to make such a beautiful painting. Yes, artists try to get others to see their perspective of the world and most of the time no one gets it. I studied painting under Nall Hollis (he's from Arab and is world-renowned now). He taught me to see things as I see them, not as others do. I think that also applies to writing - we need to let others see our world and enjoy it.

    Dannielle, yes you can step back and look! Remember the story that you created and know that it is a wonderful thing! How many people can do what we do? Sit down and create? You don't make mistakes - you are creating and that is never a mistake!

    Ok Jean, cutting your ear off? LOL Van Gogh had a LITTLE problem. Honestly, I don't see it with you. Pure genius is all I see in your and Stephanie's writing!

  11. Cheryl, this post is so relevant to what I am undergoing as a writer today. I have been to all the workshops, plotting classes, pacing classes, grammar classes, and more. I've read countless books about the craft of writing, but I've come to the conclusion that my writing is first and foremost about telling the story. I am in the middle of a revision, a total scrap of my original premise and hook for a request. I was floundering with writing the rest of the story--which is completely new--and bogged down with trying to tell it perfectly. I finally gave up, went back to my original first draft methods and my roots in writing. Now the story is flowing because I've released myself from the "rules."

    Great post! And for the record, I've been to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. A master, a troubled genius, who also had an amazing and loving brother. I often think about the brother watching his talented brother succumb to madness. In the end, if our craft destroys us, what is it worth?