I met an icon last night.
I was at an art gallery and got to chatting with Shepard Fairey. You know his art, even if you don’t know you know. He worked with the Sex Pistols on their posters, designed the Obama “Hope” poster and most famously (at least in my book) is responsible for the Obey Giant posters that are found all over the world as street art.
Anyway, we were at an event for my daughter’s kindergarten, that was hosted by Fairey and his wife in their gallery. So naturally the talk turned to art. I told him about how I had thought I wanted to be a visual artist when I was in college, but that my work lacked any real artistic instinct. I could render an image, but after years of that I finally asked the question my mom had been posing all my life – what’s the point in drawing like a photograph? Art is about interpretation. Color, form, shape, shadow. You have to bring something to reality, something more than reality, to make art.
Needless to say, I was not telling Shepard anything he didn’t already know, and we didn’t chat very long, but the conversation brought my head back to this idea I’ve playing with lately. What makes literature, as an art, good? Metaphorically it’s still about color, form, shape and shadow, but unlike visual arts, there’s a lot more room for spot-on rendering. So you might think this was the reason I was drawn to writing as an art form. You’d be wrong.
As much as I struggled with letting go of reality with my paintings and drawings, I have no such hang-ups with my stories. The first story I ever published was a coming of age story told from the perspective of an apple. The novel I’m working on now is set on an ostrich farm, which lends itself to all kinds of unusual imagery. I’m keeping it solidly rooted in reality, and it’s a very human story about a young girl dealing with the loss of her grandfather, but the setting gives it a whimsical, fun, ALMOST magical feel.
I don’t know why I feel free to push boundaries with my writing that I never could break free of with my painting. Maybe it’s that I feel more anonymous. A story is told by a narrator, which gives a step of removal that to me has always felt like a buffer of safety. Then there’s the “it’s fiction,” forcefield. I can be as offensive as I want, as raunchy, or prim, or whatever, and if anyone has a problem with it I can just say “hey, it’s fiction, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.”
In any case, I’m really embracing this idea of loose rendering. The key, I think, is to figure out what you really want to say, and then let everything else just fall where it may. Who knows, maybe my ostriches will be singing, sock-wearing, modern dancers by the time I’m done with them. As long as my main character has the journey I want to her to have, the rest is artistic window dressing.