Lea Wait here.
Visitors to art galleries will usually see a piece of paper near each artist’s work called an “Artist’s Statement;” an explanation in words of what the artist hopes to have said in his paintings, photographs, or sculptures. Because their goal is to speak through their work, most artists hate to prepare these statements, but they’re a part of the job. (Yes; art, like writing, is a job.)
I remember reacting viscerally to the colors and textures of the ancient walls of Beirut, Lebanon, where I grew up. Sometimes I responded to the walls themselves, and sometimes to the paint and torn posters covering them more than a thousand years after they were built. Torn posters and multiple layers on walls in 1970s New York City had the same effect on me. Now when I paint, color and texture and composition are my tools.
I’ve been thinking about that paragraph. Writers aren’t required to define their work in “writers statements”; we do it through our work. Marketeers and publicists call what defines our work our brand. Critics call it our theme, or subject, or motif. No matter what genre we write in, our work is identifiable.
And, yes, we, like Bob, express ourselves in layers. (See three of his paintings embedded in this blog.) Our layers are parallel plots and sub-plots; places and words chosen to reflect the emotions of our stories. Like artists, we use colors and textures to deepen our writing. We use the past to add depth, either through our characters’ backstories, or by historical references.
We include details from nature, from migrating birds to spring dandelions to sunsets to drifting snowflakes, to add mood and definition. Or we set our stories inside the kaleidoscopic colors and sounds of a modern-day shopping mall or city street, where the world is created by people, not nature. What our characters hear and touch and taste … and what they experience … add more layers.
In my Shadows of a Down East Summer the 1890 diary of a young Maine woman who posed for Winslow Homer opens a window to late nineteenth century New England and leads the reader on a path through history. Events in 1890 changed the way individuals and families saw themselves, and those images and perceptions were passed down through families, each generation adding to and changing the story to meet their own needs and expectations. In Shadows of a Down East Summer those changes result in a murder today.
In both cases, the viewer, or reader, or critic, adds the final layer to the work: their interpretation of what the craftsman was saying, and how successfully it was accomplished. As Bob wrote in his statement, My goal is to hook the viewer; to provide a visual experience that he or she can turn into an emotional experience.
Art, like life, does not exist independently. It is made of layers of past and present visions, thoughts, moments, and, yes, stories. It is our job, as their creators, to dig as deeply as we can, to enrich our work as much as we can, and to present our viewers or readers with as intense an experience as we can. By doing that, we give our work life.
Lea Wait writes two mystery series: the Shadows Antique Print Mysteries and the Mainely Needlepoint mysteries. She also writes historical novels for ages eight and up set in the nineteenth century. For more information about Lea and her books, see her website and friend her on Facebook and Goodreads.