Art and Writing

One day a year Smithsonian magazine hosts “Free Museum Day” across the nation. Various museums and art galleries participate and provide free admission to anyone with a ticket. Those are free too and require nothing more than an email address to receive.

I took the day off from writing and visited the Gilcrease Museum of Art in Tulsa yesterday with my free ticket. Not only does it have one of the biggest western art collections, it also has a couple of thousand archaeological artifacts all tucked into drawers that can be explored by all. Mayan jade necklaces, Inuit effigies, bows, spear heads, and hundreds of other things await the visitors eye.

Of course, I say I took the day off. I wasn’t actually putting words on the page but that doesn’t mean my mind was idle. In fact, it inspired this blog post.

Writing rules are kind of like sand. Bazillions abound and when you get one in the wrong place, it’s really irritating. “Write every day” is one of those rules.

For the beginning writer, “Write every day” reads “Put words on the page everyday”. To the writer with more experience, it reads “Make progress on your work everyday”. Now, you might think the two are the same thing. A writer writes so putting words on the page everyday is making progress everyday. True. But making progress everyday is not always about how many words are penned.

Writing is not just about the word count or the mechanics of what is on the page.

Writing is about art, too.

The mechanics of writing, the number of words, the length of sentences, the voice, the verb choice, sentence structure, etc all matter a great deal in a finished piece of writing. But you can have the most mechanically correct piece of writing and still not have a story worth reading.

That’s where the art comes in. The emotion. The spark. That one thing that touches a reader so deeply that can’t quit thinking about the story. The thing that makes them laugh or cry or throw the book across the room is the thing that makes it a story worth reading.

If you’re a writer, you’ll know when it’s there. You’ll feel it too. You may have a hard time admitting it because of all those lingering fears of self-doubt and loathing, but you’ll feel it all the same.

Reading a good book is like visiting a museum. You see the artifacts, you read about the history of them, and then you see them in a painting and realize someone held those things in their hands and used them as part of their life, and the story becomes real, it becomes a part of you.

Probably my favorite thing of the whole museum trip was a single blurb they had posted in a room of portraits. Portraits of everyday people doing everyday things. It made the point that history is not just made up of famous people and single points in history like the date of a famous battle or the end of a war. It is made of people working everyday in so many different ways and living their lives and interacting with one another. It isn’t just the portrait of George Washington that matters, but also of a slave harvesting crops or a child at play or a town at a picnic that makes life matter.

Capital letters, punctuation, passive verbs, word count are all just the stars of the show and will make whatever you write shine, but without the emotion, the love, the heart ache, the joy, the horror, etc it won’t be art.

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