Digital image, Copyright 2011 Marriah Bishop, used with permission.

My daughter has started painting. She also takes a lot of photos (digital and old school 35mm). Lately, I’ve been struck by the contrast between her two arts—and how those differences relate to writing.

Photographers strive to capture images of what’s already visible in the world and focus in on it, with the goal of revealing what exists—what is tangible, what is right there in front of us—in a new way, making people see.

And, of course, most artists wielding a camera hope to make us feel—to invoke peace, hope, or joy showing the lovely things that exist all around us. To stir up empathy or make us angry (thus, hopefully, motivated to do something about whatever issue riled us up). To kindle awe or understanding about the world around us. To make us laugh. To make us cry. But they attempt to do that by showing us what already exists.

Painters, or the ones whose work I relate to most anyway, seem to approach their work the opposite way. They start with reaction (emotion) triggered by something real and try to express how feeling looks. The results on the canvas may be realistic and identifiable—a brook, a tree, a face . . . but they just as easily might be abstract colours and shapes and form, or some combination thereof. The final piece creates something real, yet isn’t fact-based or often a literal representation.

For me, those visual processes are close cousins to writing—non-fiction is like photography. I write about what really exists, for a variety of reasons—to create a record, to encourage, to challenge, to entertain, to inform. . . .

In fiction, I start with an idea or emotion or question and explore it through story—sometimes realistic, sometimes absolutely fantastic. Every time, with the hope of stirring the fears, concerns, rages—and the dreams, worries, and hopes—of the reader. I’m not concerned with the factual at all.

Whether the setting is a modern high school classroom, the moon, or a castle in a land of fairies, what I want is for people to feel—to recognise that emotional truths exist separate from literal events, times and places. After all, there’s something surreal about being human—there’s our physical reality, but then again, something so, so much more than that, in which we live and move and have our being.

Poetry and music are like what mixed-media is to visual arts—seeking to express what almost defies expression, to give substance to what is invisible yet is also somehow the crux of existence. Oxygen to plant life.

I read a comment on a blog recently that said that “real” writers don’t write blogs. (The irony that the comment was made on a blog, by a writer made me smile—and in a large part helped fuel this slightly odd post. As much as I see differences within the forms, mostly I see connections and related pathways between all modes of artistic and creative output. I’m not sure there’s any definitive definition for a writer—except that he or she writes. And although it’s interesting and fun (perhaps even helpful, occasionally) to wax poetic on the purpose and function of various forms of writing, I don’t know if it really matters how or why or what a person writes.

What about you? Do you write in a variety forms? Are you a writer and another type of artist as well? If yes, how do your processes/intentions differ according to the craft? If no, any specific reason why not?

It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

6 thoughts on “It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

  1. Is there a love button??? I think wordpress needs to instate one!!!
    There is much in this post I find beautiful that i will just settle to say wonderful post, Ev

    To answer your question, I play music, and I love visual art. I def explore emotions & responses. I do write nonfiction as well, but I think along with providing concise information & I link it to cause and need which is invariably linked to emotion

    Great post, & I love how we all inspire each other


  2. Dear Jennifer,

    Ah, thanks—so much! I’m so pleased my thoughts resonated with you.

    I don’t know if I knew you were a musician already, but when you wrote that you are, it totally made sense to me and explained the lovely lyrical quality of so many of your posts.

    And re: non-fiction and your comment, “I think along with providing concise information & I link it to cause and need which is invariably linked to emotion,”—me too. 🙂


  3. I think there is both ‘fiction’ and ‘non-fiction’ photography.

    Photos can create a record, entertain, inform. My driver’s license picture, a ‘fail’ photo, an instructional sequence.

    But a photographer can also start with a reaction or emotion, then attempt to capture it or illustrate it with the hope of evoking that feeling in others. Can you see the fear in someone’s eyes or sense the palpable dynamic between different people in the photo. Do you feel the awe of creation in a landscape photo or closeup of the intricate design of a flower. How about the intense loneliness of a grey windswept beach. That’s more like a painter. Just a different medium.

    I think you can – should – mix them. A movie without music?

    I also think everyone should try different forms of art. Writers should paint, take pictures, play music, dance….

    I find it difficult to do a blog post without adding a photo. A photo of my breakfast may be merely illustrative but a silly photo in a serious post may be there just to say I’m not too serious about the topic. Maybe I should add music or sound.


  4. Dear Vello,

    “Writers should paint, take pictures, play music, dance….”

    Yes! I totally agree with everything in your very wise, astute post!

    And good points re: “fiction” vs “non-fiction” photos–and the fact that sometimes photographers start out from emotion, then try to capture the shot that triggered it. I realized even as I was writing that, of course, nothing was as set in stone as I was suggesting–I was just trying to put it out there that so often people separate the Arts, but I think similar motivations and desires fuel all of them.


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