There are few things less spellbinding than finding a painting or illustration that resonates with you on a deep and profound level. It’s incredible how a single, or in some cases, a few images, can evoke such deep emotions and thoughts.
All paintings function like stories, in one way or the other. Weak or mediocre art does not compel the viewer to dig deeper or to look longer. My favourite artwork, Primavera by Botticelli, is fantastic because I can’t stop looking at it. Every new viewing is another discovery.
So, what does this have to do with fiction? Which usually uses words as opposed to images? (Especially in regards to novels). Well… a lot. Although the experience of reading a book is very different to viewing a painting, there are still some similarities. For one, great literature and visual art manage to engage the viewer or reader for a considerable period of time. Once the viewer turns away, or closes the book, they still manage to have lingering thoughts about the events that have unfolded.
Fiction that does this remarkably well are Shakespeare plays. The sad, stinging deaths of Romeo and Juliet remain with us. More importantly, they cause us to discuss rich topics such as youth, power, control, romance and love, as well as family.
Remember: great literature starts discussions, it does not end them. A work of fiction or artwork may deal with the topic of death (such as a Caravaggio painting) and maybe suggest a point of view (Tolkien’s ‘death is just another path’ in LOTR) but ultimately, it must encourage further thinking and analysis from the reader and viewer.
George Orwell does this exceptionally well. Through allegories, clever linguistics, and rich commentary, he is able to get the reader thinking about power, the state and the individual. Whilst Orwell obviously writes from a distinct point of view, his works help you think critically. Bad art wants you to think in a certain way, whereas brilliant art offers a perspective, but also the opportunity to consider a point of view, and to think seriously about a topic. It opens your eyes to a rich intellectual possibilities without constrictions.
The visual arts embrace such intellectualism. After visiting certain galleries in the world such as the Uffizi in Florence and the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, there are plenty of artists who, although seemingly limited by a canvas, manage to create wonders of thought. Just look at the Sistine Chapel ceiling created by Michelangelo, or how people construct stories behind The Girl With The Pearl Earring.
In conclusion, there is a lot to learn from the visual arts. Fiction writers and readers must embrace the many possibilities of the format.
Comment below with any thoughts you have about art and literature. I’d love to read them!