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