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Through the Eyes of an Artist

As writers, we initially tend to be either more cerebral or emotional than perceptive. Its occurs to me that writers are driven to express what they actually haven't figured out how to say verbally, but long to say somehow. Then, we at least have the struggle down on paper where we can move it around, erase it, start over and add to it. Seeing the words will perhaps give us a better chance of revising to something close to what we want to say.

Written expression is a bittersweet struggle, according to most writers who've written about writing. The need to write seems to come from a deep need, as I expect does most art. When the words work, we are elated, and when they don't and especially after a long struggle, we're often dismayed or despondent.

We learn when our writing says what we want that it has begun with what we see, touch, smell, hear, and only then with what we make of it by way of our minds and emotions. Surprisingly to both the new writer and the new visual artist, our art, when it is art, comes directly and spontaneously from our senses. It feels almost instinctual and sometimes spiritual when it's right and maybe that tricks us into thinking that art comes from a mystical place. We see the painting or we read the words that make our hearts sing and we almost assume some magical origin.

As we learn, though, when we attempt to create from a mystical place within ourselves, art eludes us. Still, art is an expression that reflects us in some, however obscure, mysterious ways. This said, art is not a quick Polaroid, a case study of a character or the facts of a story laid out upon a page either.

Art intimates a sensual reality, rather than imitating it.

Picture a Van Gogh in your mind. Let the painting flash across your mind's eye. A simple room, the color yellow and other bright and contrasting and complimentary colors; a rough blue shoe bent and shaped to the form of a man's foot; a bright flower open and screaming its vibrant life at you, the viewer; and a tall, dark and texturally swirling tree contrasted by bright white and yellow stars colors. We see that art is shades, values, structure, relationships, textures and forms. We feel a kind of wholeness or joy.

Now, think of Joyce Carol Oates' writing, a woman sitting tensed upon the edge of her seat, holding herself rigid, dressed in gray, a small stain at the white-ringed wrist of the dress. Through quick and telling detail of sight, Oates hints to us of character, scene and thereby, story, without ever filling in all of the numbers. She gives us not an entire snapshot, but an intimation. We strongly suspect that we know the current attitude of the woman. Aha! We read on.

Perceptions, whether expressed by a visual artist, a Van Gogh, or an excellent writer, provide us with sensual hints, drawing us in and wanting more. How exactly Van Gogh will execute the form, what Oates will have her character say and do, are almost imperceptably secondary to the perceptual hints at the realities shared with the viewer or reader. Without these perceptual glimpses, we turn from the work, bored, as bored as by the case study or the Polaroid.

The perception of alertness of Oates' woman begins with a woman. the woman's alertness is told to us in how she actually sits at the edge of her chair. Oates' needn't say, "The woman is alert," because she has shown us. Van Gogh does not need to correctly diagram the shape of his yellow room for us. He has made it just enough the shape of a room and containing what a room might plausibly contain that we instantly believe it to be a room. A diagram of the room would be of little interest.

Upon and through the artist's perceptions, character and story are both built and conveyed, whether painter or writer. In our quest to become fully human, we seek the arts, whether our own creations or others'.

Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, wrote while working in the mental health field for 24 years and is now a full-time freelance writer and oil painter living alternately in France and Washington State. She has written four published non-fiction books, many articles, short stories, curricula, business materials and is currently working on a novel, "Another Margarita Please." Another book is planned for 2006. Jolyn's website features one of her specialties, writing policies, procedures and other materials for non-profits at reasonable rates: See adventures/ Her novel is at her fiction website: and she can be reached at

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