Thursday, September 22, 2011

Art of Words: Seeing

I am taking an art apreciation class this semester. I think most writers see themselves as artists to some degree or another but it is interesting getting the perspective of visual art. Surprisingly --or perhaps unsurprisingly-- a lot of the concepts are very similar to what we talk about in the writing furums. Therefore, because

1) Relating things to writing makes me remember them better,
2) I have been somewhat uninspired in writing related topics the last couple weeks, and
3) I am an amazingly talented multi-tasker and can therefore study and blog at the same time

I will be working on a series of writing talks related in some way or another to visual art.

Beginning now. With the topic of Seeing.

According to artist Robert Irwin "Seeing is forgeting the name of the thing one sees." This is an easy enough concept to wrap your head around in a museum. Instead of putting names and functions to the things one is presented with you look at them, see them, touch them, hear them, enjoy them, in their own right and not as whatever it is you asume they were meant for. But how could forgetting names possibly relate to writing, a medium that is made up of tiny little names for every thought English speakers have ever tried to record?

As a fantasy writer especially, names have always been very important to me. From folk-lore's Rumplestiltsin to LeGuin's Ged, names have power. They hold meanings far beyond a simple collection of sylibles meant to represent something. They define. They dominate. They control. With a language active as long as ours, and with as many linguistic roots, historical contexts, and mythilogical conotation, not to mention modern medea references, and personal experiences, every name we hear is layered with ideas that may have nothing to do with the thing it is meant to define.

Or it might have everything to do with it.

For a writer choosing the words for a sentence is like trying to name a thought. We have so many choices before us that could mean something very similar to the thought in our mind and yet we pilfer our brains for the exact word, the exact turn of phrase. We plunder the dictionary for alternatives and torture our reader's minds with obscurities. Generic nouns and cunjunctions simply won't work.

Why? Because any writer with something to say doesn't want to say what is easy to say. They want to twist their readers' minds into seeing something new. Or better still, seeing something old as if for the first time.

A house then, in a good story, is not A house but THIS house. In the hands of a master writer it is no longer even A haunted house but THIS haunted house with THESE dangers. They may be similar to the dangers in other haunted houses or they may not. That is irelevent. What is relevent is that for these pages the reader will forget everything they know about haunted houses. They will fear, be thrilled, and experience the house as if they didn't know what it was.

In fiction "seeing" --the kind that makes one forget the name of what one is seeing --is in defying cliche`s and archetypes. Not necisarily by avoicing them but by transending them.


L. T. Host said...

Love this post, Taryn! Thanks for making me feel better about all the times I've thought "this is JUST like that other book I read" while I'm writing :)

Keriann Greaney Martin said...

Yes, love it. This is important to keep in mind so that not only can the writer picture a certain place, but the reader is along for the ride. Those little details are super important and make a story much more interesting.