7 Writing Lessons from Famous Artists (With Quotes)
Writers aren't so different from artists in other creative genres. We're all seeking to create intricate masterpieces that reflect a message to the world. Writers use pens or laptops. Painters use, well, paints and canvas. But despite our varied mediums, harnessing our creativity is the same, and we can learn a lot from each other. Crossing genres may inspire new ideas.
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” ~ Bob Ross & me while editing (smirk)
Here are 7 Writing Lessons from Famous Artists:
Leonardo Da Vinci teaches all creatives to keep journals. Best known for the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, this Renaissance painter was also a genius inventor, conceptualizing ideas way before their time like solar power and flying machines. With so much going on in his head, Da Vinci used journals to capture his ideas. Sounds familiar, right writers? While our writers’ journals may not be preserved forever in famous museums and in private collections like Da Vinci’s, journals are invaluable resources to collect our ideas for later use.
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.” ~ Da Vinci
A good idea is like a spare tire--you may not need it today, but you'll be thrilled to have it when you do. Your brilliant story premise or character sketch may not work for your current manuscript, but writing it down ensures that you can revisit it someday when you have more time or are desperate for ideas. Idea notebooks save us from writer's block, mostly.
As a seasoned smirker, I really get her smile.
Our next great artist, Jackson Pollock, is a favorite of preschool teachers everywhere (in ease, not clean-up) and offers an artsy approach to writers who are outlining or crafting first drafts. Pollock used a technique called drip painting – splattering the canvas with globs of dripping paint. What writers can learn from Pollock and his technique is to simply get the writing down and see what emerges. The precision work of story-shaping and editing the manuscript comes after the initial ideas are purged. And the most important thing about a first draft is simply completing it--splashing all the paint on the canvas. The real work comes later when you have to discern what it all means.
“It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.” ~ Jackson Pollock
Georges Seurat’s work in the Art Institute in Chicago inspired a scene from one of my favorite movies: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Cameron, Ferris' anxious best friend, stares at Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte with such intent fascination, closer and closer, we wonder what he's thinking. It's a real pondering-his-existence moment.
Seurat used a technique called Pointillism, which is exactly what it sounds like. A pattern of points forms the picture, one painstaking dot at a time. Seurat teaches us that the finished product is the result of many, many smaller parts. Wide brush strokes would've covered more canvas in a shorter time, but wouldn't have given the same, gorgeous effect.
“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.” ~ Georges Seurat
Or consider wide strokes the first draft, and pointillism, the second--where the real work begins.
For writers, words form paragraphs, then pages, then books. We have to look at our work word-by-word just like Seurat created dot-by-dot. And for the masterpieces we hope to write, we must practice precision, attention to tiny details, and patience.
One of my favorite paintings is Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I love the thick swirls of my favorite color, blue. Van Gogh was poor all his life, and only sold one painting. But, that didn’t stop him from being generous with his paints, even using whole tubes at once to create those chunky swirls. Van Gogh teaches writers to be bold and dramatic, and generous with our words, especially while we’re getting that first draft down.
“I see drawings and pictures in the poorest of huts and the dirtiest of corners.” ~ Van Gogh
Van Gogh teaches us to never stop working. Though considered a failure during his time, he never stopped painting, even through severe mental illness. Now, his works rank among the most valuable, and sell for, well, way more money than most of us will ever see. In heaven, Vincent's still shaking his head over this life-irony.
What we write may not make us bestselling authors, but it will make a difference to someone, sometime, and it's okay if we aren't witnesses to it.
“I feel that there is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” ~ Van Gogh
Andy Warhol teaches writers that it’s okay to use everyday things to create incredible art. Remember his Campbell's soup art? He also painted other grocery items like Brillo pads and ketchup. When writing, sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the fantastic and spectacular because that’s fun to write. But, the best writing happens when everyday people and things are made fantastic and spectacular by how we write them.
“Art is what you can get away with.” ~ Andy Warhol
Rembrandt played with light and shadow to maximize impact and teaches writers to guide readers to what's important. Rembrandt directed his audience’s eyes to exactly what he wanted them to see and to the emotion he wanted to express – something a writer has to do carefully. We don't have to describe everything, just what matters to the story. That applies even to Science-Fiction/Fantasy world-builders who think it's perfectly okay to drone on page after page describing their story worlds. Yes, we get it--you've created a really cool place. But, let that come in slowly, through action, not a manual-like guide to Never-Never-Land. Use highlights, not spotlights.
Long-winded writers (like me) often get hung up on extraneous details. But when we clutter our stories with TMI, we pull light away from what's most important.
"Of course you will say that I ought to be practical and ought to try and paint the way they want me to paint. Well, I will tell you a secret. I have tried and I have tried very hard, but I can’t do it. I just can’t do it! And that is why I am just a little crazy.” ~ Rembrandt
Pablo Picasso created an estimated 50,000 works during his lifetime. Of those, he used many techniques and mediums and went through several artistic periods. From collage to Cubism, from painting to sculpture to ceramics, Picasso teaches artists to try anything to produce meaningful work. Likewise, writers shouldn’t limit themselves to genres, formulas, trends, or methods. Just write the story as it should be written.
Writing a mystery (like me) doesn't lock you into mysteries forever (You can always kill off your hero, like Agatha Christie did when she tired of Poirot... RIP Poirot).
Teenage vampire stories may be trending, but you don't have to write one. Publishers and agents will get sick of seeing them, anyway (and they did after Twilight).
You don't have to stick to one writing method, either. Some writers are pantsers (writing by the seats of their pants) while others are planners. Or you could say they're Pollacks (pantsers) and Seurats (planners)--ha. But being one doesn't mean you can't try the other. I tend to be a mix of both, and often that depends on the project. Diversify your work and how you do it.
“Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” ~ Pablo Picasso
Your turn to work... share your favorite artists and why below. I'll also take suggestions to add to this list... I'm thinking Bansky should be here, somewhere.