Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor

Writers: On the Road in the Visual Arts

By Nanette J. Purcigliotti
Copyright © 2007 by Nanette J. Purcigliotti, All Rights Reserved

Writers are possessed with the gift of painting words on a page. In the course of history it has been noted that some writers, in the process of their imaginings, have worked out their action plot, emotional plot, voice, and whatever else they needed to do to make their book work, by literally drawing themselves into the visual arts, thereby freeing their Muse to a heightened force.

A prime example of one writer on a spiritual quest with a passion for writing and living life in the visual arts was Jack Kerouac. His book, On The Road, sits next to my computer. Why? Because he opened my eyes to see how connecting to the visual arts can free the Muse within your soul. On The Road freed his generation of writers and artists to smell the flowers and he freed future generations of writers and artists with his Beat Culture. His words are alive on the page as he painted his words with all his five senses.

On the Road shows how music played a part in his writing. “Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime.” And, “The crazy flowers bloom there too.” And, “The music picked up. The bass-player hunched over and socked it in, faster and faster.” On the Road brought Jack Kerouac into the limelight in the literally world. New York University was the first university to recognize Jack Kerouac as "a giant of American letters." NYU produced a show of his legacy and some of Kerouac’s artwork was featured. Kerouac had an on-going journey connecting the different aspects of his passions; his love of music and of painting and of poetry; and letting his passions connect its rhythms and connect it all to his writing life. "Jack played his particular style of crashing “Beetoven-esque chords," and it is all there in On the Road.

Some writers find that by expressing themselves in the visual arts whether it be a hands on project, visiting a museum, viewing a Broadway show, or listening to music, their writing comes to life with their novelist's eye and later the images, the colors, the scenes, play into the novel their working on or free their Muse to invent another book.

Joyce Carol Oates, the award-winning author of many books expressed her passion for the visual arts. In her non-fiction essay, Life, Vigor, Fire: The Watercolors of Winslow Homer, published in Writers on Artists, she described one of Homer's marine paintings in her own painterly words. "If the quintessential watercolor bears a relationship to any literary form it’s surely to the lyric poem: a work which, in Robert Frost's words, rides on its own melting, like a piece of ice on a hot stove." She added, "White paper breaks through transparent washes to suggest the dim reflections of the sky; all colors are muted—browns, blues, greens, black." I read her book, Black Water and couldn’t help reflecting on the idea that Winslow Homer’s painting was in her mind’s eye when she wrote Black Water.

Eudora Welty's best selling memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, which I treasure, shows Welty's relationship to art in her early years. "In a children's art class, we sat in a ring on kindergarten chairs and drew three daffodils that had just been picked out of the yard; and while I was drawing, my sharpened yellow pencil and the cup of the yellow daffodil gave off whiffs just alike. That the pencil doing the drawing should give off the same smell as the flower it drew seemed par of the art lesson."

Lazette Gifford, Editor of Vision stated in her article, Workshop: The Lost Sense, “In order to use the sense of touch in your story, you have to be more aware of it in your own world.” Welty used her senses to tell her stories in her own world.

Isabel Bishop was foremost a painter. With her novelist's eye for detail she wrote an essay in Writers on Artists on the art of Gregorio Valdes. "The sky was blue at the top, then white, then beautiful blush pink, the pink of a hot, mosquito-filled tropical evening." She painted her words. Bishop used her painterly senses to tell her stories and all aspects of the visual arts worked to her benefit.

Literary artists throughout the ages have been drawn to express themselves in different mediums. The brand new brilliant novelist, Marisha Pessl is another example of a gifted artist who likes to “sweep out her mind” and says, “It’s so nice to have the silence, to just express things visually.” Her book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, earned the New York Times 2006, 10 Best Book Awards.  When Pessl’s not writing she moves into another mode and takes up the paintbrush. "When you're painting for yourself, you have no one to please. But yourself."

To sum up, the writers who can move into the visual arts to free their Muse and hear the music and smell the flowers and view the painting allow the visual arts to refresh their life as a writer.      

For me, writing is hard work. There are no easy paths to getting published. Writers must follow submission policies, query letters, networking, and in some cases, critique group issues. If your work is rejected you can finger paint or listen to cool jazz and let your Muse refresh your soul and your book.

In the end, taking time out to experience the myriad doors open in the visual arts can be a rewarding experience for writers. When your book is published, you can smell the flowers, hear the music, and view the painterly images of your words in your book; for all the world to read.


WRITERS ON ARTISTS, Edited by Daniel Halpern

North Point Press . San Francisco

ISBN: o-86547-340-4


David Amran, Thunder's Mouth Press . New York

ISBN: 1-56025-362-2

ISABEL BISHOP, Helen Yglesias, Foreeward By John Russell,

Rizzzoli, New York

ISBN: 0-8478-0976-5


Archives, Friday, February 9, 2007

POSSESSED; It's Like Nothing, Really

Vision: A Resource For Writers (Issue #37 January/February 2007) Lazette Gifford, Editor