I began Words & Art with the idea that anyone can write about art. You don't have to be an expert about art and you don't even have to be an expert about writing. Anyone can write about art.
I believe this because the art helps us write.
First, art helps us focus our writing. When we sit down to write, we often face a racing mind. How do we get through all the worries, plans and to-do lists? One answer is to focus on something concrete. When we walk into a gallery, there's something right there in front of us; colors, shapes, textures to excite our senses. This is a chance to practice direct observation; to focus on the details and bring the richness of specificity to what we write.
Second, art helps us expand our writing. Art is not just about what's in front of us, it's also about what's within us. What does the art create in our minds? Where does it take us? We can go in any direction. It may jar memories or feelings, or something significant to us. When we follow these reactions, and investigate them, we begin to see how much room we have to run in.
Connecting observation to imagination is a way to balance our writing. While the concrete details give our readers something to grasp, the emotions and memories give them a way to relate. This makes our writing more memorable and more meaningful.
How to choose what to write about:
An easy way to begin is to write about a work of art that interests you, something you’re curious about. Writing about it will enrich your understanding of it. You may even want to do research and bring that knowledge to your writing. If you aren't sure what to choose, visit a local gallery and just look. Something will draw you in.
Also, try to write about a work of art you don't initially like or understand. Confrontation can sometimes spark some interesting writing. So jump in! You may be surprised what happens.
Mary Wemple is the creator and coordinator of Words & Art, a reading series and workshop series inspired by the installations at Rice University Art Gallery. She has degrees in English and Studio Art from the University of Houston and she is active in the poetry and art communities in Houston.
When you write about art, I highly recommend the following:
Write from direct observation. Being in front of the original work of art, being in the same room with it, is integral to writing vivid observations and having genuine experiences. Houston has a wealth of galleries and museums to choose from. I highly recommend the MFAH, the Menil Collection and Rice University Art Gallery.
Talk about the art with someone. Bring a writing friend along to the gallery and discuss the art together. Being able to talk out your reactions to someone else can help you bring your ideas together, and hearing someone else talk about their reactions, opens you up to new perspectives. This is why the Words & Art writing workshops always have writing time and discussion time. Many participants comment that the discussion time is the most meaningful part of the workshop.
Write about installation art. An installation is when the art interacts with the gallery space, often filling the room. When you are surrounded and immersed in the art, your writing becomes so much richer. This is why I chose to coordinate Words & Art at Rice University Art Gallery, which exclusively does installation art. All the poetry and prose at a Words & Art reading are inspired by one installation, they all begin from the same point, but each writer takes a different perspective, and expands their ideas in different directions.
If you are ready to write about art right now, the current installation at Rice University Art Gallery, “Shotgun,” is a great place to start. Not only can you walk right up to the art, but you can walk inside it. You can learn more about "Shotgun" on Rice Gallery's website.
If you would like to hear how local writers have been inspired by “Shotgun,” come to the Words & Art Reading, Wednesday March 11, 7pm at the Rice University Art Gallery on the ground floor of Sewall Hall. The reading is free and open to the public. Parking maps are available at the Words & Art Facebook page.