In a 1984 Paris Review interview, the writer James Baldwin said the following:
I remember standing on a street corner with the black painter Beauford Delaney down in the Village, waiting for the light to change, and he pointed down and said, “Look.” I looked and all I saw was water. And he said, “Look again,” which I did, and I saw oil on the water and the city reflected in the puddle. It was a great revelation to me. I can’t explain it. He taught me how to see, and how to trust what I saw. Painters have often taught writers how to see. And once you’ve had that experience, you see differently.
Many of you are visual artists as well as writers. I’m not. But I’ve become a much more visual person in the last few years. I think maybe this blog is my nudge to look again. To be more aware of the world around me.
These days, with writing, instead of having ideas, I’m seeing scenes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten out of my own way. My thinking has gotten out of the way of my…something.
When I started with the words of James Baldwin, I didn’t realize I would end up with something, but that’s as far as I have time to go with this today…
Baldwin’s an amazing writer. I was reading him today by chance myself! His essay “Notes of a Native Son” is the greatest American essay, I think. Love his comment about seeing. I remember Hemingway making the same point about painters teaching writers.
Richard, we do overlap a lot in our reading! I haven’t read that essay, or I haven’t read it recently, so I’ll check it out.
interesting….i didn’t realize this about writers being visual artists’ as well. explains my desire 🙂
Jennifer, so many of my friends who are writers are also artists or photographers or make jewelry….You name it. It seems like the creativity is flowing out of all their pores. For years, I didn’t think I had a creative bone in my body–until I discovered writing. Now, tell me more about your desire…
well, painting has alway been a big one (but there is not enough time yet for that – i’m saving that one). But I have this great desire to get into multi-media art, especially with kids books. I really admire and find inspiration from authors such as Mo Willems and Lauren Child. Are you familiar with either of them?
Jennifer, that sounds very cool. I don’t know those authors but will look them up.
I love this post. I’ve been fascinated lately with the insights of painters and how their insights or thoughts on painting relate to writing. My mom is a painter and she’s got all of us painting. I was watching a PBS special of a Plein Air painting and every little piece of information about seeing the world the artist gave applied so well to writing. I’m going to watch it again and blog about it this week.
Anyway, thank you for this post. It’s a reminder for me. I’ve taken a break from seeing like this and you putting it into words has reminded me that that is what it takes to find my characters and their story.
Cristina, I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. I totally agree with you about the insights of painters. One of my favorite books is Matisse on Art by Henri Matisse. Everything he says applies to writing. It’s great that you have your mother with that perspective. And I look forward to checking your blog when I get back home.
Interesting! I actually think you do have an artistic eye; I see that in your photos. Good writing, like good art, engages all the senses.
Not to miss: in today’s New York Times Book Review: Leanne Shapton pairs her paintings of Canadian leaves with the words of Canadian writers: http://nyti.ms/aVhFEu. Her book, The Native Trees of Canada, will be published next month.