Taking the plunge into another, different arts discipline can be a surprising new source of inspiration, as Daisy Stella Baldwin discovered last weekend...
Open-mic nights, writing groups, book clubs and salons – the literary life has its share of social soirées. Writing can be a lonely business, especially if you work from home or are between jobs, and the literary scene provides an opportunity to mingle with like-minded people and seek inspiration. (I know from friends that the worlds of theatre, film and the visual arts can be similarly all-consuming.)
But while it’s great to get involved in events within your field of interest, it’s also good to widen your gaze and explore what the other arts have to offer. Last weekend, a friend had free tickets to the Frieze Masters, which sees international art collectors (and members of the public willing to pay up to £27 a ticket) browsing collections from different galleries inside a makeshift building in Regent’s Park.
I initially felt like the whole thing wasn’t for me, but soon stumbled upon In the American West, a series of portraits by Richard Avedon of people ranging from drifters and hospital patients to oil-workers and rattlesnake skinners. Avedon isolates his sitters against a white backdrop, every detail of their bodies forensically exposed and removed from context. We are told only their name, occupation and state, leaving us madly curious about their lives, both back then and today. There was a child sitting quietly in one of the gallery spaces, drawing one of the art works; I wanted to sit down in front of Sandra Bennett, Twelve Year Old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980, and start to sketch a story.
Likewise with William Eggleston’s empty landscapes. These photographs were gaping and lonely, hinting at nearby habitation just out of shot. In one, a child’s bicycle lies alone on a garden path as if it has just been laid down. In another, we sit behind a tree in a suburban street, a light illuminates the near distance but we are in shadow, watching. Both felt like the beginning of a story...
While using pictures as prompts is sometimes seen as a hokey Creative Writing class activity, it’s only a cliché because it’s effective. Tracy Chevalier wrote a novel based on Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and more recently, Katie Ward published the novel Girl Reading, where each chapter takes its inspiration from a different portrait of a woman with a book.
When I got home, I realised why Eggleston’s prints in particular had felt so familiar. His picture of a girl lying on the grass, camera in hand, is featured on the front cover of Ali Smith’s The Accidental, which has been on my bedside table for weeks. Accidental art-lover.
So step outside your arts comfort-zone next weekend – try a documentary, theatre, opera or dance; pick up a biography or historical novel. Many galleries and libraries are free and most places offer discounts for young people and students. There’s inspiration to be found in anything that causes you to see the world differently.
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