Get Ekphrastic!

Saturday, March 22, 2008
Last year I sat in a living room with other writers staring at a welded piece of art in steel. The creator, a fellow writer, was in the next room contemplating an artistic collage that someone else had made. I’m not sure where the maker of the collage was, but I was told that there was photography to consider in the den.

What were we doing, huddled in small groups around each others’ art, pens in hand and pads of paper at our laps?

It’s call ekphrastic writing or ekphrasis. My writing group was using each others’ visual art to inspire poems and stories. The word ekphrasis comes from the Greek words for out (ek) and to declare or pronounce (phrasis). More and more ekphrasis is becoming associated with any kind of art that is inspired from a different medium of art. Photography can inspire a poem, the written word can inspire painting or visual art, a drawing or picturesque scene can inspire a song. There are possibilities upon possibilities for the way that one person’s art can inspire the art of another person in a different medium.

This may be a new idea to some (it was to me), but what is a soundtrack to a movie more than an inspired response to the content of the script? Actually, whether or not it has been called ekphrastic, art has been inspiring art for centuries. Homer writes about the shield of Achilles in the Iliad. John Keats wrote “Ode to a Grecian Urn”. More recently the novel Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier was inspired by Johannes Vermeer's painting the by the same name. Additionally, there have even been art galleries who invited local writers to create pieces of writing about the art in their permanent collections.

Ekphrastic writing is an easy and fun way to not only stimulate your creative juices but also include others in your writing experiences. Here are some suggestions.

  • Go to an art museum and choose the painting that draws your attention the most to write about. Bring friends and have fun sharing what you come up with.

  • Look around the city that you live in for interesting pieces of architecture and write ekphrasitcally.

  • Delve into modern ekphrasis and catch a local musician or band. Take notes on what you sense and feel as the music is playing. On the spot or at home write a poem or piece of prose to that would describe the music in a new way.

My last encounter with ekphrastic writing involved viewing and then writing about a friend’s photography after her debut at a local art gallery. For me, ekphrasis inspires me to interact with art on a deeper level. It also teaches me that the muse can touch me anywhere, even if it is from a medium outside the realm of literature and story.

by Susan Eberling


Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

My daughter and I just went to see the Renoir + Renoir exhibition here in Tokyo. Selected Renoir paintings were displayed. Movie scenes/clips of director Jean Renoir, his son, were projected next to the paintings that inspired them.

We were both inspired!

Susan said...

I'm pretty sure I would give my left arm to see that exhibit. What a treat!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post Sue ~

I totally agree with you. Paintings and photography inspire me in so many ways. I actually collect found photographs. You'd be amazed at the pictures I've found while traveling through the desert. Out here, on the road to Vegas or Joshua Tree, there are lots of abandoned houses and businesses--diners, gas stations, etc. One of my favorite things to do is stop at one of these once-loved relics and explore. When I find a photo, I imagine the story behind it: how it got there, who the people are in the picture, what their lives are like, etc. I've written some of my best stories this way. :o)

I know that's a little off-topic, but your point is true. When I lived in an artist colony, we had painters, poets, sculptors, and musicians that inspired my paintings, journaling, and writing. Just being in the presence of what I like to call "slow art" (work that takes time to craft), you slow down yourself and appreciate the finer things. It's so important to do in this age of high-speed technology, and one we often forget.

Thanks for sharing, love!



Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

You might enjoy looking through or contributing to Found Magazine


Angela Mackintosh said...

Hi Annie,

Thanks for the tip =o)

I just checked out their site and noticed they have a lot of found letters. When I had my gallery in downtown Long Beach, I had a knack for finding the strangest letters on the street. I always felt weird picking them up, but was glad I did. Some of them are hilarious! When I get a chance I'll scan some and send them to found mag. ;o)



PS. I checked out your blog! It's like a breath of fresh air. I'll check back often.

Annie Donwerth Chikamatsu said...

Thank you for the comments about my blog. It keeps me grounded off over here.

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