Hello friends! In lieu of the normal Wednesday post, today I am honored to share a guest post by a fantastic author, Julie Tetel Andreson. She shares how visual arts have influenced her writing career. It’s a great read and I encourage you to check it out! A link to Julie’s website is at the end of the article.
HOW VISUAL ART HAS INFORMED MY WRITING CAREER
By: Julie Tetel Andresen
We novelists know that we need to read constantly and widely. We’re also aware of the symbiotic relationship between films and novels. Who among us hasn’t thought about one (or all!) of our stories, “This would work great on the big screen”?
Perhaps strangely, then, I feel my most profound inspiration comes from my knowledge of the history of painting in Western Europe. Visual art has offered me what feels like the theoretical bedrock of my writing choices.
I’m a romance writer, and I dare to think of myself as an artist who has incorporated fundamentals from three periods in Art History.
French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
I’m from Chicago. As a kid I loved going to the Art Institute, which has a large collection of French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. My visual memory bank is filled with the work of Degas, Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh and the like.
I spent junior year in college in Aix-en-Provence, France. Just outside of town is the mountain Mont Sainte-Victoire. The series of paintings of it created by the Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) captured my imagination. Here’s an example:
Mont Sainte-Victoire was Cézanne’s subject. One day he’d paint the play of lights and shadows in the juts and crevices of the rock at 8:30 in the morning. Another day he’d move to a new spot and paint the very different surfaces that appeared at 5:00 in the afternoon.
From Cézanne I learned the art of fixing one’s sights on a subject and examining it from as many angles as possible.
My subject is the love relationship.
The play of lights and shadows depicting a friendship blossoming to love requires one kind of palette. An entirely different palette is needed to color a battle of the sexes. The contours of a frothy Regency will look and feel very different from those in a hard-edged BDSM story. A marriage of convenience – or any other fraught situation where two people are thrown together – presents its own complexities.
For a few years now I’ve been walking around my Mont Sainte-Victoire, exploring the fascinating emotional and physical topography of the love relationship.
The Renaissance Madonna and Child
Romance novels are sometimes criticized for having a predictable happy end. I shrug. The Happily Ever After isn’t a conclusion. It’s a premise. You know the outcome going in, and you’re there to see how it happens.
Similarly you go the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy expecting to see a lot of depictions of the Madonna and Child. You know the subject going in, and you’re there to see the various artists’ compositions and techniques.
Here’s one by Filippo Lippi (1406-1469):
Here’s another by Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510):
Same subject, different execution, both masterpieces.
So it is with any romance writer’s work. Our subject may be the same, but our executions vary widely among us.
I’ll acknowledge that few romance novels qualify as masterpieces, although some surely do, and time will tell. But that’s not the point. From Renaissance painting I learned that a Madonna and Child is an institutionalized ‘something’ to paint about. It taught me to understand the love relationship as an institutionalized ‘something’ to write about. Some writers bring new perspectives to the subject, some don’t.
Romance novels are also sometimes criticized for being unrealistic, that is, idealized and beautiful. This post is not to place to unpack the dense network of negative evaluation of romance novels, so all I’ll say is that Renaissance art is generally praised for being idealized and beautiful.
I’ve long admired this altarpiece by the Flemish artist Robert Campin (? – 1444):
The central panel is of the Annunciation. Just above Gabriel’s wings is Baby Jesus flying in on a cross through the window, heading for the strategically highlighted star on Mary’s robes. On the left are the burgher who commissioned the painting and his wife, while on the right is Joseph making mousetraps to catch the devil.
Believe it or not, this painting was the inspiration for my Forest Breeze series, a contemporary trilogy, which I am now finishing. Book I in the series has a BDSM theme. Book II has a motorcycle club theme. Book III has mixed martial arts theme. The three stories share location – namely Vietnam and The Forest Breeze BDSM club in Saigon – and an ever-widening, interlinking plot.
The usual practice is for a writer to specialize, to write a series in one or the other subgenres. However, from medieval altarpieces I learned that three disparate panels could create a unified narrative. They taught me the possibility of putting the worlds of BDSM, MC and MMA in conversation with one another. They gave me the hope of creating something new and perhaps beautiful.
Final note: In no way am I comparing myself to the great artists I mention here. I am only saying I take inspiration and understanding of my own work through them.
Thank you for the insightful post, Julie! I know I definitely learned quite a bit and appreciate you sharing it with us. If you’re curious to read any of her visual-arts-inspired stories, Julie has a number of romances available to download for free. Visit her at https://julietetelandresen.com/.