Writer’s Toolbox: Describe and Critique Art

Mona Lisa - Leonard Da Vinci - Wikipedia.Your characters head for the local museum or art gallery. Their eyes are filled with wondrous sights. Colors, patterns, shapes, textures, renewing their spirit, giving them the beauty they crave in their life. Or boring them to tears as they’ve just been dragged to another thing-they-don’t-wish-they-had-to-do-in-order-to-save-a-realtionship-or-get-sex.

Either way, it helps to have words to describe and critique that art.

Describing artwork is one of the fascinating uses of language, in any language. How does the writer capture a painted expression, a twisted sculpture, an abstract painting? Could you describe the Mona Lisa with the right words to make the magic of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait explain why it continues to attract millions of visitors eager for a glimpse of the woman’s face with a lack of expression?

Interior with Girl Drawing - Pablo Picasso.Artwork is encountered in most books in some way, a photograph of a suspect, a painting on a wall, a quilt, lacework, or arts and crafts item that tells us more about the character, place, or solves a mystery. How do you describe it to not only let the reader see see it, but also choose words that match the tone, scene, time, and owner?

In general, use the following tips for presenting a work of art, though how you choose to describe it and use it in your writing is your personal, creative decision.

  1. Identify the artwork type and medium (canvas, photograph, painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.).
  2. Identify the artist (if possible or relevant).
  3. If a well-known piece, name it.
  4. Describe the objects in or subject matter of the artwork (field, flowers, sunset, ocean, person, portrait, sky, furniture).
  5. Describe the colors, lines, patterns, shapes, and textures.
  6. Describe the first impression of the artwork, what your character or your reader would see at first glance.
  7. Where is the light source? Is the source from the sky, electric, natural light, artificial light, and light direction (top, under, side, backlit (behind)).
  8. What are the sensory qualities, the mood and visual effect, of the work?
  9. Why is it placed in this this particular spot?
  10. Why did the owner buy it?
  11. If the artwork has sentimental value, what is it? How does that help with the character development and backstory?
  12. If the artwork has financial value, what is it and why is that important to your story and character? Did they buy it only for investment? Or to support an artist they found interesting? Or maybe a relative trying to be an artist? Or is it part of their nest egg, saving for the future, betting on the artist? Would they sell it? When? Why?
  13. How does it fit into the rest of the room, building, or scene? Would the character seeing this, if they didn’t own it, think it fits perfectly there or not?
  14. What does this artwork tell the reader about the character or place?
  15. Many people interpret and respond to artwork differently, some with contrasting viewpoints. How would your characters respond? The same, differently? Would they each have a different reaction to the artwork? Does that add to the conflict?
  16. If important to the story, interpret the artwork from the perspective of the artist. Why did they create this? What was their inspiration, motivation, and goals to do so? This might reflect back on the personalities and backstory of your characters.

To help you learn more about learning how to describe arts and arts and crafts, we’ve put together some resources.

Here is a YouTube video for writers on how to describe art.

The following will help you describe artwork and critiquing it to help you flesh out the experience of your characters.

Prompt: Love is a Temporary Madness

The prompt this week came from Louis de Bernières’ Corelli’s Mandolin:

Love is a temporary madness.
It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision.
You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.
Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion.
That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.

Novel Writing: Storyboarding and the W Plot Chart

Mary Carroll Moore is a popular published author offering educational information on writing and publishing your novel. The following video covers creating a storyboard for your novel using a 3-act structure, specifically the W Plot Chart, helping you find the 5 most important points in your novel.

The following are articles and resources covering more about the W Plot Chart and 3-act structure.

What Would We Be Without Gardens

The following was written by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond, as part of our month long prompt, garden.

Yellow Rose Bud from Portland International Rose Garden - closeup photo by Lorelle VanFossen.Trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables, all these make up gardens. While I was growing up, we had a huge vegetable garden. My family planted cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

I remember one Fall, we grew a huge pumpkin. It was mine and it was stolen. I was very upset.

I took to foot looking for it. I found it in someone’s garage.

I high-tailed it home and retrieved my little red wagon. I snuck back there and brought my pumpkin home. While I don’t recall any other major mishaps with the garden, which was probably a good thing, I remember my family focused on keeping not only the vegetable garden but other gardens we tended, too.

To name a few, we had many flower gardens, roses, petunias, and colorful daffodils. Gardens are a lot of work to maintain with all the watering, weeding, fertilizing, and pruning. Certain flowers only bloom during specific times of the year. For example, roses only bloom in summer through early fall in the Pacific Northwest. Daffodils come up in early March, or sometimes, if the weather is unseasonably warm, daffodils come up in late February, a bright surprise at the end of winter.

Gardens that are kept up nice usually means that people care about the way their house and yard looks. Today, there are also garden flags people display in their yard which look nice.

I loved picking flowers from the garden to make beautiful floral arrangements to give to family and friends, or even to enjoy on my bedside table. They bring me such happiness, what would we do without gardens?

Where to Publish Your Short Story

During our Writers in the Grove workshops, we often suggest to our members that a particular work needs to be sent out to a magazine or online publishing site for publishing.

While there are many writing contests a writer could enter with a poem or short story, the following are articles featuring a variety of places that want your story short work. And some pay fairly well.

There are many articles on the web to help you get your short story through the submission process well, but take note of the specifics in “How to Get Your Short Stories Published in Lit Mags” by Writer Unboxed. There are some great guidelines to help.