Appreciating Art… with words

I have a problem. With art. A problem around not really getting it, appreciating it, whatever term you wish to use.

Matt Pointon Blog

I mean, I know that I like it (well, some of it), and I know that I enjoy it (most of the time), but I always feel like there’s something I’m missing.

I have another problem. With writing. I mean, like with the art, I like it (some of it) and enjoy it (most of the time), but then doing it, now that can be hard.

Say “creative writing” and that stereotypical line “We’ve all got that novel inside us just waiting to be written” comes to mind. But do we? I mean, a novel is a pretty big and heavy thing to take on. They say that a short novel is around 60,000 words; Tolstoy’s War & Peace is just 600,000. As a comparison, a degree dissertation is, on average, 10-15,000 words. That’s right; even your squifflingly short novel weighs in at 4+ dissertations.

But back to the art. A couple of years ago I was wandering around an art gallery, rather enjoying it but feeling that I was missing something important. I liked this, but not that? Why? This painting was not my style while that one was well-executed yet didn’t interest me? Why? And all the while, I was trying to think of a plot for a story I wished to write.

Then it came: one of those lightbulb moments! A metaphorical apple dropped onto my head and, ping! Gravity understood! Why not solve both problems at once?

And so, I set myself a task: wander around the gallery aimlessly until I come across a painting that says something, anything, to me. Then sit before it, scrutinise it, reflect on it, and write a vignette (i.e. a single scene) about it, max 500 words, min 250.

And so I did. Twice. And I enjoyed it. I mean, really enjoyed it. I got two pieces of writing to show my friends, but also understood a little more about the artwork I’d seen. Because afterwards – and only afterwards – I researched the paintings that I’d chosen and the motivations of the artist who’d painted them.

And I was so enthused that I visited another gallery, then another, then another. And after I’d completed a number of these vignettes, I began to notice patterns. Certain artists appealed to me, certain ones did not. I researched those artists and began to discover what it was about the painting that I liked; their techniques, social commentary, their vision.

Today, I have written almost a hundred and I understand the art world far better. Compiled together, the word count is getting close to 60,000 so, perversely, I’ve sort-of written that novel as well.

And so here is the moral of the tale: next time you get writer’s block, head for the art gallery. You won’t be disappointed.

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Matt Pointon

Matt Pointon is a Project Officer working in the unionlearn Strategy team. He has worked for a number of trade unions in the UK and overseas prior to joining the TUC. Matt looks after English, maths and Apprenticeship support and is currently completing his MA in Creative Writing.