Day 7 of Writing 101: The Meaning of Artistic Media

Drawing and Writing are hotly debating their differences at the local Starbucks. Drawing brought her iPad, with its various art apps, and her electronic pen; Writing has his Surface Pro before him, with its magical keyboard.  Each device shows an interpretation of “the meaning in/of art”–a rough sketch on the iPad, a first draft of a short story outline on the Surface.

“You can just see the beginnings of what I’m trying to say about art in this montage,” says Drawing.  “I’m still working on fitting all the pieces together into a cohesive whole…”

Writing looks across the table at the sketch. Clearly, it is an early plan, just as his story is a sketchy list of ideas, not quite organized, not quite complete. “I’m beginning to think it’s easier to express the meaning of the art of writing than to express what art means through your visual arts.”

Drawing sighs.  “Look, we’re never going to come to a complete agreement here. Personally, I really suck at putting words to paper.  And we both know that your stick figures are not exactly a high form of any visual media I know of, except maybe cartoons…but even so, we’ve challenged each other to express this idea in our own art forms, and I’m finding it harder to organize my visuals than usual.”

Writing nods. “I’m having trouble with organizing my ideas, too. Heck, I’m a writer of short stories, which is a world apart from nonfiction.”  He looks down at the annotated outline.  Hmm, he thinks.  This is a temporary sketch of a final product, and I hate writing nonfiction–one has to be able to support every concept, or at least be able to clearly state what that concept means.  “Maybe I’m just not good enough to write an expository piece.”

“Meaning…?” asks Drawing.

“Any idea how hard it is to express boring facts in an entertaining style?” he complains.  “Oh, sure, I’ve read a few articles written in wonderful prose, but most others are so pedantic that I can’t even get through the first few paragraphs.  So what makes me think I can philosophize on the art of writing in an artistic and creative way that actually gives meaning to written works?”

“Can you pretend you’re writing fiction? Can you go back to any of those well-written pieces you mentioned to see how they did it, how they held your attention?”

Writing says nothing for a moment.  “My fiction writes itself,” he admits.  “I start with a topic and let the story write itself, which usually means that the story veers off the plan I had in mind. That’s my style. For this type of piece, I need an actual plan that I have to stick to.”  Again he is silent for a moment.  “To be truthful, I’m not sure I know what the art of writing actually means.”

Drawing looks down at the blobs on her iPad that she’s labeled with words like “love,” “hate,” “politics,” “rebellion,” and a few other conceptual representations she hopes to keep in her montage.  She sighs again.  “I’m finding it hard myself.  Usually, I have a single emotion or concept that I want to express in shapes and colors–or maybe a scene I am observing gives me an idea.”  She looks up at Writing.  “Hell! Most of the time all I’m doing is representing what’s in front of my eyes or in my imagination.  If emotion or meaning gets in there, it’s by pure accident–kind of like my subconscious mind asserting itself through my medium.  Forcing ideas onto a canvas–and before you say it, yes, I consider the iPad as much of a canvas as the linen stuff I paint on!–it’s not easy for me to do.  I’ll really have to think on this and decide how much of ‘meaning’ I want to–or even can–represent.  Sometimes I wish I had just taken up photography…but I’m no photojournalist either, and I don’t have an eye for what photographic scene will inspire others, much less express some sort of meaning.”

Writing chuckles.  “I read you loud and clear.  Remember all the great prize-winning photographs from Life Magazine, or some of the great war-related photos published in the Times?  One picture that really does represent a thousand words…”

Drawing smiles as she looks down at her iPad.  She is thinking about some of those photos from Life, and the photo essays from National Geographic, and all the other sources that told stories through pictures. She opens Safari and starts searching for thematic photos in the National Geographic archives…

Writing has minimized his story draft and is searching through the Life web site for the short expositions that always accompanied the photos…


About DrEMiller

Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). Home: Sint Maarten. K-12 teacher for 13 years (Special Education for 10 years); Post-secondary educator since 2002; Education consulting since 1995. When teaching, held teaching certificates in K-12 special education, reading specialist; and secondary social studies. Doctorate: Educational Psychology Programmer/analyst for 10 years, including project management and training of corporate execs.
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12 Responses to Day 7 of Writing 101: The Meaning of Artistic Media

  1. Gradmama2011 says:

    I found this story both entertaining and thought-provoking. Relative to both the humorous aspects of exchange between Writing and Drawing, and to the meaning of the essay itself. Your comparison of the to art forms inspires me to think about my own situation. I write non-fiction, having worked in the field much of my life as a journalist and student…and over the years have written fiction only occasionally. I do love the automatic elements of made-up characters and invented situations, especially the ease with which these come to light. The contrast is in non-fiction, which requires factual understanding, and in academic circumstances, the need for thorough citation and attribution.

    • DrEMiller says:

      I’ve never done journalism (I don’t think junior and senior high counts), but was trained on the academic writing of research. For my preference, qualitative research offers the greatest opportunity for prose–specifically case study and cultural descriptives. I am far too impatient to write up a good qualitative analysis report, so I stuck with dry old quantitative reporting. The only place where I basically forced myself to use fiction-like prose was in writing up reports on my emotionally disturbed students. I agonized over every single word put to paper lest my words be inaccurately interpreted to the detriment of the student. That was when I started taking writing seminars to hone my prose. It is still not the same as well-written prose, but each class got me a little closer. This class is helping me just as much, and the contrast of Writing to Drawing stems from the drawing classes I have recently started taking. All of these things made this assignment so much fun, especially when I was able to put to use the crazy personifications of inanimate objects and/or concepts used by my favorite SF&f authors: Pratchett (who died recently), Gaiman, and Stross (especially his Laundry Files). I really had fun with this assignment and probably could have done more with it if I were not trying to keep it short. Hope you enjoyed my little effort–and this really did take little effort. The story wrote itself.

  2. Ish says:

    Brilliant! I did think of an interlude between facebook and email..

  3. lucydanvers says:

    This is such a great story. I love how writing and drawing interact so well together. Their comments are quirky and I can imagine them perfectly and it is just so fun to read. I really enjoyed the level of creativity of this story, and I think you really did the task for today amazingly!

    • DrEMiller says:

      Thanks for the wonderful comments. This assignment was just too much fun to do “seriously.” But you can probably see the influence of SF/Fantasy authors Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Charles Stross (especially the Laundry Files) in this piece. They have so much fun writing, and I always have so much fun reading their work. Pratchett was my favorite among them, but he recently passed away, and I’ll have to settle for imagining where his Discworld series is going…

  4. Donna says:

    Well done your education definitely shows in this story.

    • DrEMiller says:

      Thanks for your comments, Donna, but education has nothing to do with this story. My education taught me to write the dull and boring stuff, and discouraged humor or imagination. The format of this story was influenced by reading the SF/Fantasy works of Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Charles Stross–among other hilarious SF&F writers. I’ve never done a piece like this before–ever; but my mind so completely zoned into this mode when I read the prompt and twist, that the story just fell into place as an attempt to mimic my favorite authors. And by the way, remember that some of the greatest novelists of the last century never even finished high school but became raving successes because of their interjection of humor and twisting their view of the world just a bit. Sometimes I think that’s what makes great writers–the ability to twist one’s mind just a bit without losing touch with reality. I’ll never be a great writer, mostly because my mind is either too straight or too twisted; but aspiring to borrow from my faves and attempting to create something they’d appreciate if they read it–that’s a great motivator.

      • Donna says:

        This is true many great writers did not finish school probably because they were bored as their minds were writing stories. I apologize and glad you felt compelled to write it was very good.

    • DrEMiller says:

      Donna, don’t apologize for your comment, please. It is a common misconception: You earn a degree, therefore you can write well. You would be surprised how many people with degrees hire people to write their theses or dissertations for them–not the general idea, but the actual stuff that gets read and approved. They do it because, often, they never learned to write anything well–not fiction, and certainly not non-fiction, despite all the reports and essays they turned in. It has never been clear to me what many students are graded on when they turn in papers for classes, but it’s rarely grammar or spelling. Some students are lucky enough to have excellent English teachers–or even one that forced them to write well-constructed sentences as well as creative ideas.
      English was not my first language, and wasn’t the one spoken at home. Throughout grade school, I learned all the appropriate grammar skills needed to get into college (which was a lot different almost 50 years ago than it is today), but no one ever taught me to write creatively or with panache. Just like Writing had trouble moving from fiction to captivating non-fiction, the only writing I was taught was setting down boring facts on paper. You have no idea how many books I’ve read on writing creatively or with imagination. What I learned from all this is that the best way to learn to write creatively or with any flair is to read, read, and read some more. I love my ebooks because I can highlight my favorite passages–the ones that say something new in a new way, or that are entertainingly off the deep end. I’ve never actually attempted to mimic them, but after a while they become part of my language repertoire. They sit in the back of my mind and occasionally come out to play when a coincidental prompt presents the opportunity. And that’s rare. That’s what made this assignment so much fun for me. It’s not great–or even good–writing, but it’s fun because all those authors’ creative ideas were called out to play. Today’s prompt and twist, in combination, called the stored passages out, and for the first time in quite a while, my own words wanted to play.

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