During our creative writing course in Gaucin, Andalusia, our classroom was surrounded by the tableau of grey-green mountains and cobalt skies that is the Serrania de Ronda. Among the group were visual artists resident in the area who found some common chords between painting and writing.
We were giving consideration to the way that effective writing leaves ‘gaps’ for the reader to fill in, space for the imagination to do its work. Rather than stating that a character is neat, particular and loves her daughter, a writer might chose to list objects on a desktop: a pen holder, a leather-bound notebook and a silver-framed photo, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about the character’s personality traits. One of our artist students realised that when painting, the artist might make a selection of marks on the canvas which the viewer then forms into a castle, a temple or a prison block. In this way, the reader and the viewer are not passive recipients, but are imaginatively engaged in the creative process.
When deciding how a character will react in a set of circumstances, it is important for the writer to know all kinds of biographical details – their upbringing, past relationships and inner desires, even though they may not state them overtly in a piece of writing. This detailed work nonetheless informs and gives authenticity to the final piece. When re-writing, authors may also need to ‘slaughter their babies’: delete a certain phrase or image that they may be very attached to, but that is no longer apposite in draft three.
Similarly, an artist must make every stroke and mark with sincerity, knowing absolutely what its provenance is at any stage of the painting’s construction, but may need to obliterate a delicately wrought section of the canvas in one stroke of yellow if a later stage of the work demands it. Just like the author, who trusts that all the character work will reveal itself through the character’s reactions and decisions, the painter trusts that their sincere mark-making will serve to support and give resonance to the final painting.
In a similar way, it may be that our incomparably beautiful surroundings, worked a mysterious alchemy with the selection of words arranged on the page, causing our Anadalusian writing group to produce work of particular depth and dimension. We will be returning next October to test the premise out again assisted by the autumn sun and fruity rioja.
You can also check out yoga, pilates and painting courses and residentials in Gaucin with our local artists/teachers Victoria, Ness, and Ali http://www.paintingpilatesspain.com/