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Nothing New Under the Sun


Last week, I spoke with a traditional quilter who was afraid to try art quilting. “I’m not an ideas person. I wouldn’t know where to start.” she told me. “I’m not like those artists who just get ideas from nowhere.

Nor, I told her, are the artists she admired. 


The Tate Liverpool recently had an exhibition of later works by Turner, Monet and Twombly. In the first room is a painting by Turner called Hero and Leander. He based his painting on the Greek myth of the same name. On the adjoining wall was a set of four works by Twombly which are entirely different in content and style but which are inspired by the same myth. I was fascinated to see the difference in two works from the same inspiration. Turner painted a very formal, classical composition. Twombly left us a free, expressive interpretation.  With this as with other paintings he added words in his scrawling handwriting to the art.

It is interesting to read the wikipedia list of other artists and writers who have referenced the myth including greats such as Shakespeare and Franz Lizt
Towmbly liked to actually write the words of poetry he had read on his canvases. He said,

“I like poets because I can find a condensed phrase. I like emphasis. I like something to jump start me, usually a place or literary reference or an event that took place to start me off to give me energy and clarity.”

So for him, the poetry was both the start of and a part of the finished piece.

In terms of subject matter, there is nothing new under the sun. Originality in art work comes when we identify our own individual response to the subject and express it in our own style.

Next time you are stuck for inspiration why not choose a story or poem and spend some time asking yourself:

  • How does this story make me feel and how can I express those emotions visually?
  • What aspect of the story interests me and how can I represent it, either in an abstract or representative way?
  • Can I literally incorporate words into my art?
  • Is there one beautiful phrase I can take and use out of context?
  • Has another artist already used this story? Is there something about his/ her work that inspires me to make art only tangentially connected to the story?

Have you already used stories or poetry in your work?  Please leave a comment with a link to a photo if possible.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Actually, the piece that is my ‘avatar’ was inspired by lines in the poem Porcupine at Dusk by Ingrid Wendt. The piece is called “Vespers”, I blogged about it here: I often ‘get pictures’ from poetry ,which eventually make their way into my work. :-)

    November 10, 2012

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