Tag Archives: Art

Nothing Appeals to Everyone

As I mentioned last week, there are certain authors and genres I’ve never been able to become a fan of no matter how many times I try to like them.

It simply isn’t possible to write, draw, film, or sing something that’s going to appeal to every single person who stumbles across it. My thoughts on this topic were too complicated to condense for last week’s post, so I’m going to discuss them with you this week instead.

Some themes, plot twists, or tropes will appeal to one reader but will repel the next person who attempts to read them. This is completely normal, and it says nothing about the quality of the writing itself. It all boils down to the subjective nature of art and storytelling.

Subjectivity and Literature

To give you a concrete example of what I’m talking about, let’s go back to when I was in high school. My eleventh grade English teacher was a kind, generous woman who regularly allowed her students borrow books from her if we wanted something to read for the sheer joy of it.

When she noticed me reading a scary Stephen King story one week and a collection of Langston Hughes poems the next, she smiled and say she was glad to see a student of hers readings such a wide variety of stuff.

She taught her students a lot about literature in general. The authors she assigned us to study were from a wide range of eras and movements. I enjoyed all of them at least a little bit with one glaring exception: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

By the time I finished the first scene of it, I began counting down the days until we finished the last chapter and moved onto literally anything else in the entire world. I honestly would have preferred to read the phone book by the time we were halfway through that story because there was nothing about it that I found at all enjoyable. The characters were vain, selfish, and materialistic from what I observed. If anything interesting ever happened to them, the horrendously slow pacing made it hard for me to tell when those scenes were occurring.

I’ve never been able to get into F. Scott Fitzgerald’s catalogue even as an adult reader who no longer has to remember anything about what I’ve read for a future pop quiz. Obviously, there are plenty of people who disagree with me here, and I’m glad that they’re able to get something out of his writing. The fact that it doesn’t speak to me in no way means that it isn’t worth reading.

He simply isn’t the kind of storyteller that I’m drawn to. Something tells me that my teacher would have understood this if it had been socially acceptable for me to tell her how much I disliked that unit. As it was, I stayed perfectly polite and never brought up the subject. She might have privately had a list of authors she wasn’t a fan of as well!

Subjectivity and Art

The subjective nature of these things isn’t limited to literature, either.

One of the biggest reasons why I love going to art museums, shows, galleries, and other creative spaces with a small group of like-minded people has to do with how interesting it is to see how different folks respond to the same painting, sculpture, or other creative work.

When it comes to photography, I like whimsical, thought-provoking pieces like the shot of two toy robots on the right side of this post. Their glowing eyes make it easy to imagine that they’re somehow at least slightly aware of their surroundings.

There are so many different ways to interpret a photo like this one. Sometimes when I’m sitting quietly somewhere this is exactly the sort of thing I think about.

My taste in paintings is nothing like my preferences for photography. Hyperrealism fascinated me long before I had any idea that there was a name for this movement or that multiple painters have figured out how to paint scenes so realistic that I genuinely feel like I could walk into them and never notice I was in a painting at all. It was a style of painting I was pleasantly surprised to see on occasion, and I only grew to love it more once I figured out what it was called and that many different artists have explored it over the years.

Of course, not everyone is going to agree with me on either of these points. There are people out there who don’t connect with the pieces that speak to me at all just like I have been known to have trouble understanding other, most abstract types of art.

Subjectivity and Music

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get a group of people to agree on what a good song should sound like even after you’ve sorted out objective criteria like the quality of the singer’s voice or whether or not they’re singing on key?

I know plenty of folks who have incredibly strong opinions on this topic. Some of them even refuse to listen to certain artists or entire genres of music altogether because of how firmly they’ve made up their minds about what they do and don’t enjoy.

Yes, I’ve done this, too. There was a long period of time when I didn’t think I liked any form of country music at all. It was only after being exposed to many different types of it that I realized there were a small number of country artists that I actually did enjoy quite a bit.

There’s Something for Everyone

While nothing is going to appeal to everyone, there is something out there for everyone.

I don’t know about you, but I find that freeing.

It’s okay not to like something. Someone else out there loves it.

On the flip side, you’ll find plenty of books and other creative works that you do love if you keep searching for the things that speak to you.

What have you read, watched, or listened to that you’ve never been able to enjoy? What creative works have you tried and been surprised by how much you loved them?

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned into Stories

I come across the most beautiful, scary, haunting, and fascinating images when I’m searching for stock photos for this blog. It always makes me a little sad when I realize that nothing I’ve written so far fits them in any way.

They’re the kind of images that demand an audience, so today I’m sharing a few of these unusual pictures with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired by them. If anyone uses one of these images as a writing prompt, I’d love to know how you interpreted it! Send me a message about it on Twitter.

 

An Unbroken Doll

The fact that this doll’s face was broken at one point doesn’t surprise me. Toys break all of the time.

Who painstakingly glued her back together, though?

That isn’t the kind of chore that can be finished in a few minutes. It probably took days of carefully sifting through the sharp porcelain pieces of her head to figure out how every piece fit together and what kind of glue works best for this sort of delicate project.

It would take a lot of determination to see this project through to the end. I imagine only someone who had a strong emotional urge to do it would succeed.

 

The Pretty Poison

None of the household poisons I’ve ever seen look anything like this.

The purple liquid sure seems like it would smell nice. I’m imagining a light, floral scent that almost disappears once air hits it. You’d have to be quite close to it to catch a whiff of anything.

That wouldn’t make it any less dangerous, of course. Every apothecarist knows that.

Leg Day

Look closely at the picture above. It may take you a moment to notice the strange twist in it.

My first thought when I saw it was that it was some kind of genetic engineering gone weird. The horses legs look almost human at first glance. Is a horse still a horse if some part of its DNA somehow came from a human?

I’d love to read that book and find out.

Happily Ever After

The bright colours and whimsical scenery in it caught my eye. immediately. They’re exactly what I’d expect to find in a fantasy romance novel.

This is the kind of cover that would make me pick up a book to find out more about its plot. If nothing else, I’d want to know if there was an entire forest of heart-shaped trees for the characters to skip through or if this tree was unique in that way.

Knock, knock!

This is another one of those photographs that seems perfectly ordinary when you first glance at it. I was actually planning to save it for a future post about something cheerful and ordinary like going on vacation until one strange little detail in it popped out at me.

That detail catapulted this post from it’s original purpose into possible story territory. The explanation for it could be completely logical and scientific, but there’s also room for science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, or even horror elements to it if you prefer. Stop reading now if you want to figure out on your own what I noticed.

For anyone who needs or wants a hint about, pay attention to the body language of the woman in the centre of the photograph. How has she positioned herself? Do you notice anything unexpected about it?

The Insincere Smile

The stock photo site that I use most often has dozens of pictures that are similar to this one. The models are always nicely dressed  but have completely insincere expressions on their faces.

There are many explanations for why that might be so. Sometimes I like to come up with some reasons for the fun of it. Were the models worn out from a day of posing? Are they trying to secretly warn their audiences about who or what might be lurking behind the camera? The possibilities are endless, and the sci-fi writer in me prefers the unexplainable ones.

All that Glitters…

What I like the most about this picture is how versatile it is. Off the top of my head, it could be interpreted to be part of the erotic romance, regular romance, science fiction, fantasy, or even the older end of the young adult genre. You could probably even find a way to turn it into a mystery or a thriller if you massaged the possibilities enough.

That ambiguity makes me smile. I like it when stories leave room for more than one genre to flourish in them. When its done correctly, this can be a wonderful way to introduce people to types of storytelling that they might not otherwise be open to trying.

Deep in Thought

I both love and hate seeing gorillas and other apes at the zoo for the same reason: they remind me so much of human beings.

Everything from their mannerisms to their facial expressions can be eerily close to the way that people behave at times. When I look at them, I feel like we are this close to having a conversation about the weather or which kind of fruit is in season now.

While I’m glad that they have a safe place to live, it also feels wrong to cage them up. They feel too intelligent for that fate to me.

The nice thing about this picture is that it could be used for non-fiction just as easily as it could for fiction. You don’t have to invent anything about the intelligence of other primates in order to write about them. We already know that while they might not be exactly like us, they’re also not exactly like other animals either.

When Justice Is Blind

Is it just me, or does that water look uncomfortably cold?

The first thing I thought when I saw this scene was that it looked like a test of some sorts. Is he expected to swim in that chilly water or simply stand in it blindfolded for a predetermined amount of time?

The One Who’s Watching You

Obviously I had to save the best picture for last today. This is the creepiest thing I’ve stumbled across in a long time.

Not seeing a character’s face always scares me.

The fact that we can see his or her hands doesn’t help the situation, though. Their nails look sharp and rough. Their skin looks leathery, and I’m not entirely sure it would still be warm to the touch if they brushed against you.

What does he or she want?

I’m afraid to ask, but I’m even more afraid to turn away before they do.

Why It’s Okay to Eavesdrop for Creative Purposes

 I have a confession to make today. Listening in on other people’s conversations is one of my favourite things to do, and I don’t think any artistic person should feel the least bit guilty about it.

In fact, we should be doing it regularly.

Why is that, you might be wondering? I have several different reasons for feeling this way.

This Isn’t About Spreading or Listening to Gossip. I would be equally interested in overhearing people passionately debate their favourite fishing techniques as I would a happy story about someone they know who just got engaged. If someone really loves a certain topic, their enthusiasm for it can be contagious.

There’s also something fascinating about conversations that aren’t rehearsed or expected to be remembered in any way. I like the little pauses people add to what they say before they share big news and the different sounds they make when they hear something sad, thrilling, troubling, or wonderful.

The way that words slip off of a real person’s tongue isn’t always the same as the way that characters speak. It’s interesting to find these small cracks between the two and try to fill them in the next time I read or write something that didn’t quite hit the mark.

Your Intentions Are Good. On a related note, another big reason why I don’t have a problem with eavesdropping for creative purposes is because artists and writers generally have good intentions when they do it. We listen in on other people’s conversations to find inspiration, not stir up trouble or poke our noses into other people’s business.

There have been times when I suddenly stopped eavesdropping on people because of how personal or sensitive their exchange was becoming. It’s one thing to overhear someone talk about what kind of fruit to pick up at the grocery store and quite another to listen to them plan a funeral or publicly break up with their partner.

These aren’t things that I have any interest in overhearing. They really should have happened in a private place anyway, so I pretend like I never heard them if they accidentally spill out into the public sphere. Someone who was eavesdropping for an unsavoury purpose wouldn’t have this kind of discretion.

Some Moments Were Made for Each Other. Have you ever thought of the perfect comeback minutes, hours, or days after a discussion ended? Time travel isn’t possible, of course, but you can always go back and rewrite how things should or could have gone if that’s something you want to.

There’s also something to be said for snipping moments out of real life that never could have happened next to each other and then figuring out how to lay them down gently on a fresh sheet of paper, tuck them into song lyrics, or flick them onto a clean canvas.  The best things I’ve ever written were a curious mixture of wishful thinking, stolen tidbits of time from true events, and characters I’ve already created that demand to keep that particular idea for their own uses.

Other People’s Stories Are Fodder for the Imagination. I have never used an entire conversation that I’ve heard in anything that I’ve written. The details always get changed, and they usually are altered in such profound ways that no no one would recognize their source.

Most of the time these exchanges make me think of questions that lead me to entirely new places in my mind. For example, I might hear someone mispronounce a fairly common word and wonder why they did that. Is English their second language? Did they used to have a severe stutter when they were a child that now only comes through when they try to say certain sounds? Have they only ever read that word in print and so have no idea that they’re mispronouncing it?

There are so many logical explanations for something like this. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, there could be plenty of supernatural or otherworldly explanations to play around with as well. Has this person been possessed by a ghost who lived in a time when that word was pronounced differently? Is she an alien who is desperately trying to blend into human society while she observes how our society functions and decides whether or not to officially make first contact?

I almost never have a clue if my theories are actually correct, but that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. They provide a decent jumping off point, and I’m happy to let my imagination wander after that.

Life Would be Dull Without Storytellers. I believe that poets, musicians, writers, painters, and other creative folks fulfill a vital purpose for our species. We take note of those strange, beautiful, difficult, or thought-provoking moments in life that many other people miss and reinterpret them in all kinds of wonderful ways.

Occasionally we even get to preserve those moments so that they can be savoured decades or even centuries after they originally existed. If this isn’t a kind of immortality, I don’t know what else would qualify. There is something almost magical about still having these snapshots of ordinary times that existed long ago and in faraway places.

So eavesdrop away, fellow creative people! There are beautiful moments slipping by every single day. It’s up to us to capture a few of them and make sure they’re not forgotten.

Why You Should Be Following the Mystery of Tom Thomson’s Death

Tom Thomson

Tom Thomson was a famous Canadian painter who died nearly a century ago. His landscapes influenced the Group of Seven. Had he lived longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have become an official member and they would have been called the Group of Eight instead.

If you haven’t heard of this artist or the kinds of paintings he and his friends became famous for, the links above will tell you all about them.

For the past few years, he has been tweeting through the last eight months of his life. His tweets are heavily researched and include references to his diary entries, conversations that others remembered having with him, and many other sources.

What I want to talk about right now, though, is why you should be following Tom Thomson on Twitter. He also has a blog, although he is much more active on the former. His tweets about his final months are beginning again today, so now is the perfect time to get to know Tom and his art.

Tom’s paintings are beautiful in an understated way. My favourite one from him is included below, although there is something I like about every piece of art I’ve seen from him so far. They remind me of what it feels like to stand outside on a freezing January morning, or a breezy May afternoon, or a hot and muggy August evening and feel everything that nature has in store for me on that particular day. The weather can’t always be tied up into neat packages, and neither can Tom’s work.

There are many things we know about the ordinary fabric of this artist’s daily life. His tweets discuss everything from what he ate for specific meals to how he liked to spend his free time to what sketches he was working on in the last few weeks and months before he died. More than once I was impressed last year by his descriptions of the small details of his life. One day, for example, he mentioned eating boiled potatoes and stew. I barely remember what I ate for dinner last week, so have those details of someone’s life from a hundred years ago is surprising and fascinating.

In the last nine months or so that I’ve spent getting to know him online, Tom has been kind, funny, and personable. There are times when he seems unsure of himself or when he doesn’t know what he should do next. Yet he still picks himself up the next day and tries again. These are the tweets I’ve come to appreciate from him the most because of how much they reveal about his personality and character. He’s the Monday Blogs Painting Picturetype of person I’d invite out to dinner if we were living in the same century.

Exactly how he died is a matter of debate. We know he was alone at Canoe Lake and that his empty canoe surfaced days before anyone found his body in the water.

Did he have some kind of medical emergency that lead to him falling into the lake and drowning? Did his canoe accidentally tip over or bump into something submerged in the water, leaving him to drown before he could be saved? Did he stumble across someone who was doing something illegal and who didn’t want any witnesses of their crime? Did someone else murder him for another reason?

There are so many different possibilities, and he’ll tell you about all of them as the date of his death grows closer.

I have my own theory about what probably happened to him, but I’ll keep the details of that to myself until we get closer to the end of his saga. The urge to write short, speculative stories about his fate is growing stronger. I don’t know if I’ll give into it, but it is something I’ve been thinking about doing as he gears up to once again chronicle the end of his life.

Which theory you end up believing will be up to you, but I hope you’ll start following Tom and learn a few things about him and Canadian history along the way over the next eight months. I’ve been finding a lot of writing inspiration in his tweets. Who knows? Maybe you will as well!