The Writer’s Life: Beyond Words — Other Art Forms by Hilary Meyerson

Writers love to talk about our art. The craft of writing. The joy of writing is creating something new in the medium of words and language. We love the zing of a snappy line, the mournful tones of a somber one, the cadence of a staccato beat of dialogue. Once you’re hooked on language, it’s a drug. For years, we’re all about comparing and contrasting other writers. We devour the latest hot novel, we quote from classic poetry, we continually rediscover old favorites and turn the words of others over in our minds as we forge our own new masterpieces.

However, at some point in our writing careers, we start to become inspired by other arts. While most creative types like a variety of arts, it takes a long time to really understand the work that goes into them. I find that I’m more intrigued by crafts I wish I could pursue. I feel like I keep unlocking new levels of discovery in writing  – it’s easy to extrapolate that there are those same levels in other media. I’m becoming more inspired by a few other arts lately – they all inform my work as a writer.

Film and Television

This one is kissing cousin of writing. Obviously, there are writers who write exclusively for film or television. I get the basics of this specialty, but wish I knew more. Being a writer has killed my enjoyment of many a movie. Special effects and great acting are for naught when a clunky line of dialogue is dropped. I’m the person in the theater throwing up my hands and hissing to my seatmate about how that got past editing in the script while people around me are shushing me. However, I’ve started to get beyond the writing, and wish I knew more about the visual aspects filmmaking process. Camera angles and panning and zooming and acting. The thought of putting so many disparate parts together, for a coherent whole fills me with awe. The thought of editing (a familiar term for writers) an entire film seems like a worthy challenge. Because I’m a writer, I have a better appreciation for the work that goes into a really good movie, even if I don’t understand it.

Visual Arts

Writers love to analogize to the visual arts, particularly painting. We talk about painting a picture with words. It’s easy to give lip service to appreciate art – sure, a Monet looks great. It’s pretty. But do many writers really appreciate painting with paint? As in writing, a little knowledge is dangerous and wonderful. I remember the intro to art history course I took in college, where I learned I didn’t even know the tip of the tip of the iceberg. I remember looking at a rather staid painting from the medieval period and learning that the small rose in the corner represented the king, and the dog was fidelity, and ten other things that suddenly revealed that the painting was really an incredibly subversive political statement. I needed to know more. I took more classes, and learned more about styles and movements and the vast sea of art history of the world, but still maybe have only reached the tip of that iceberg. I’m envious of artists who have a richer understanding of what has come before, and can look at a new work and see the influences and subtext that isn’t apparent to me. As I can read a book and spot a subtle reference to Shakespeare or see the influence of another novelist, I wish I had the same understanding of art. I want to learn more. In the meantime, I have to rely on the audio guide at the museum to help provide context. I’m intrigued by a volunteer group at our local museum that takes blind patrons on art tours. Talk about painting a picture with words. While finding the words to describe a de Kooning or a Rothke must be hard, imagine the skills needed to actually create one. I only wish I had some of those.

Music

I have a natural disadvantage in the musical realm. It’s an art form that is beyond me, and I’ve made peace with that. I am unable to clap in time to the simplest beat and can’t even help my 12-year-old son tune his violin because I can’t hear an obvious sour note. My husband laments my acoustical disability. I’ve caused deep embarrassment for him by asserting that my clock radio produces as high a sound quality as I’ll ever need.  However, I can still regret my lack of understanding. A friend once walked me through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, pointing out the instruments in each movement, playing the birds in spring, or the harsh weather of winter. It had never occurred to me that there was more at work than an attempt at pretty music. I can’t fathom how one would put together a symphony, with all the different instruments working as one. But I wish I knew. Some of my friends are real music aficionados and are constantly discovering and sharing new musicians and bands. They may as well be handing me a novel written in Russian. However, I know when I hear something great. It makes me wish I could read Russian.

Photography

This one should go under visual arts, but it’s a media I find particularly intriguing, as it incorporates technology to an unprecedented degree. My husband is an amateur photographer, and he’s made me see it through a new lens, so to speak. I love the immediacy of photography. It does something we strive so hard to do in writing: to capture one moment, one instant in time. Just as there are some lines of prose or poetry that will tumble around my mind forever, there are some haunting photos that will live there as well. The craft of photography, with its attention to composition and color and movement, is one for which I have new appreciation. I once wrote a scene that took place on a trampoline – two characters jumping in unison. It was a pivotal scene, and took a few pages and many rewrites. A filmmaker could capture it easily in a couple of minutes. Far harder would be to capture the whole scene, with the emotion and the movement and the exuberance, in a single frame. Yet there are photographers who do just that – an entire story told with the perfect snap of the shutter.

 

These are just a few of the art forms I’m curious about because of my life as a writer. As I get older, I’m just more interested in people who are living a creative life, creating art in some form. To me, art is one of the things that makes life worthwhile. It’s what elevates our human existence and keeps me from despairing about the planet, our government, crime or anything of the myriad things that make it seem like humankind is on a downward spiral. Writing is my passion, my therapy, my joy. However, it’s also opened up a new appreciation for other creative arts. I can extrapolate from my own experience to other creative endeavors. It’s somewhat like the difference between enjoying a gourmet meal at a restaurant and then going to culinary school and working the line at a restaurant for months, then going out and enjoying that same meal. You’ve got a better appreciation as you know the work that went into it.

I’m not discouraged by how much there is to learn about my own craft or so many others. Instead, I’m inspired by the endless possibility. I’m signing up for a watercolor class and maybe will look into some film-making courses too. So many other arts inform my experience as a writer and a person. I’m grateful for the creative life.

hilary meyersonHilary Meyerson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. She loves the writing life in Seattle, where she migrates from library to coffee shops with her laptop. A recovering lawyer, she refuses to wear confining shoes ever again.
Print Friendly
  • I agree! As I get older, I am also more and more intrigued by how people find and express their own creativity. Taking an art history class (or a whole string of them) is on my list of goals. And if you want to see some gorgeous, inspiring photography, check out http://www.gottgraphicsdesign.com/ . Brenda’s photos are amazing. I collaborate with her on a flash fiction project and she always, always inspires me.