On Being the Kind of Artist Who Creates More Than Just Art
Untangling the influences on our reading and writing lives is like a kind of personal archaeology of the literary persuasion. For most of us, bookish things and writerly urges have become such an integral part of our existence that we have ceased to even question their origins. We simply take them at face value, accepting their existence as “the way it has always been.” It isn’t until we begin to dig, carefully shifting layers of time and memory, that we start to uncover bits and pieces of the Story of Why that is embedded in our personal history.
On Mother’s Day, I wrote about the very direct and deep influence my mom has had on my writing (and reading) life. Now, all of a sudden, it’s Father’s Day (where did that time go?!?) which has me thinking about how my Dad has influenced my writing life. The irony is that my dad is neither a writer nor a reader. In fact, it’s a family joke that Dad won’t read a book unless it has pictures. A lot of pictures.
Though the written word is not his cup of tea, my dad is a born creative. When it comes to his own art, Dad works in the visual realm. He is a photographer, an illustrator, a cartoonist, a painter, and a graphic designer. He is also a sculptor, builder, and light designer. In short, the man has many (many) talents. But he also has something more than mere mechanical ability. He understands the importance of creating an experience.
When I was in the seventh grade, my history teacher assigned one of those projects that requires students to make a presentation or build something. My project was a scale model of a post and beam home from a first period settlement. I had no idea what I was doing, but Dad was ready to help me figure it out. We commandeered the dining room table and, with my mom and sister lending a hand as well, spent hours and hours building the most accurate and detailed model I could imagine. It had authentically joined beams, a thatched roof, a slate hearth, and a wattle and daub chimney. One side of the house was sided with rough boards, but the other was open so that viewers could look inside and see the miniature furniture and accessories we had built – a trestle table and chairs, cooking pot, tiny utensils, sacks of ground flour, a broom, a ladder, tools for hammering and cutting. By the time we were finished, the model was almost too large and too heavy to fit in the car, but it was a beauty.
Looking back, I realize that building that model was just the first of many lessons my dad has taught me about paying attention to the details and creating an experience. He wasn’t just building a model of a house. He was transporting people back in time. Dad approaches every creative project, no matter the medium, with the intent to create atmosphere and evoke memory and imagination. Like his idol, Walt Disney, Dad is an artist who knows that the true creation doesn’t happen on the canvas or the film; it happens in the heart of the viewer.
This passion for creating and appreciating experiences permeates every facet of my dad’s creative life. We can talk for hours about how a movie or a TV series either excelled or failed at drawing us into another reality. We pick apart the story, the acting, the locations, sets, and props. Birthdays and holidays give Dad another opportunity to stage miniature extravaganzas that make each and every event special. Ghost stories by a campfire, hay rides in the dark, sing-a-longs with animatronic characters, treasure hunts from Santa, fireworks on the back porch … family get togethers are never dull when my dad is working his magic behind the scenes.
My dad may not be a writer, or even a reader, but he is a storyteller, a world builder, and an artist. He is a dreamer with an eye for detail and a passion for creating art and experiences that not only tell stories, but also inspire them. Watching and listening to Dad, I have learned that real art does much more than just hang on a wall or sit on a bookcase. Real art creates an alternate reality that has the power to change this reality. Real art invites us in and then changes how we see the world and what we think about our place in the world. I don’t know if there’s a more important lesson for any writer to learn, so … thanks, Dad.
What I’m Writing:
I feel a bit like a broken record, but once again I find that the week has gone by and I have not managed to make the time to work on my fiction of creative nonfiction projects. Once again, my days (and sometimes nights) have been filled to the brim with marcom writing projects – the kind that (happily) pay the bills, but do not necessarily nourish the soul.
Still, my mind is always churning away on my “real” writing projects. There isn’t a day goes by that I’m not thinking about characters, techniques, etc. I’m always learning and always capturing new ideas. I also do find small ways to play. This week, for instance, I wrote a sort of a poem for my beau. I call it a “sort of” poem because I know just about less than nothing about poetry. A few terms have stuck in my head from my high school English classes – iambic pentameter, sonnet, etc. – but I honestly couldn’t define them if my life depended on it. Regardless of my ignorance, I decided to craft a sort of a poem to celebrate our seven year anniversary.
I’m sure I broke all kinds of rules, and I can already see things I would like to change, but – you know what? – none of that matters because he loved it. It may have been clumsy and a structural train wreck, but he understood what I was trying to say and it made him smile. And that’s really all I was hoping for.
What I’m Reading:
After my lustful affair with The Art of Floating last week, I must admit that I felt rather at a loss for what to read next. I tried to go back to the fantasy novel I’d begun before The Art of Floating swept me off my feet, but I found I’d lost interest. (I have a feeling, in fact, that I have lost my taste for fantasy of that kind all together, but that’s a thought for another post.)
I let my eyes wander my bookcases for a bit and they finally settled on a small hardcover copy of Quite a Year for Plums, the first novel by author Bailey White. Those of you who have been reading these weekend editions for a while may recall that I first read White’s collection of short stories, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, almost a year ago. My first experience with White’s writing was something of an epiphany for me. Her simple but beautifully crafted stories made me realize how much I enjoy reading about and would like to write about small town life.
Quite a Year for Plums is, like the stories in Mama Makes Up Her Mind, a quiet book. Not much happens. There is no great quest or heist. There is no big mystery to solve. No one undergoes a major emotional, spiritual, or physical change. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much story arc at all.
Still, I was always eager to return to the pages of this unassuming and yet intimate book. Though there was no great tension to keep me turning the pages, I still turned them. Reading this book felt like visiting old friends. It was a comfort. Though there was no sweeping adventure or exotic setting, I still felt completely taken out of my day each time I sat down to read a few pages.
As a writer, I know that I will be returning again and again to White’s books as examples of not only wonderful storytelling, but elegant writing. White is a master of “show don’t tell.” With very few words and hardly any descriptions, she paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. In fact, the world she created for Quite a Year for Plums felt to real to me that I still don’t quite believe that I’ve finished reading the book. I keep reaching for it to continue reading, as though it contains a story that never ends.
In short, this one’s a keeper and I’m looking forward to exploring some of her other titles.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Make Your Customer the Hero of Your Story: ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Video by @annhandley
- How I Ghostwrite Other Authors’ Books by @joebunting
- Content Overload: Stop Consuming and Start Creating by @WTFMarketing
- How to Connect With the Writing Gods by @GillespieKarin
- Artists who don’t sell, suffer by @nametagscott
- Shifting The Focus From Results To Relationships by @bernadettejiwa
- Every Writer Should Watch This 60 Second Video by @storyfix
- 5 Ways to Curate Content for Your Content Marketing by Mark Lerner
- 14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time it Takes to Eat Lunch by @RachelSGrate
- When will People Realize that Genre Fiction can be Just as Great as Literary Fiction? by M.R. Carey
- How to go from $0 to $40,000 a month writing from home [podcast] by @jaltucher featuring Steve Scott
Finally, a quote for the week:
So, that’s all I have for this week. I wish you the pleasure of reading stories that sweep you away and the magic of a good day putting the words down. Until next week!
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.