Thursday, November 27, 2014

Art as a literary device in fiction

Bronze of "David," by Verrocchio
Our May 31, 2014 blog discussion included a concept of "ekphrasis," a term referenced by writer Stephanie Coyne DeGhett as a "literary representation of visual art."  DeGhett explored, among other things, the ways that accomplished writers, including Oscar Wilde, Steven Millhauser, Stanley Elkin, and A. S. Byatt, have incorporated actual works of art as focal points in their works of fiction; i.e., in Byatt's Matisse stories.  

There are many ways that visual art might point the way to creating interest and satisfaction in literary constructs, and it has been a topic in several past postings. In this post let's explore how some creative energies that seem evident in a particular work of visual art might prove useful in drawing out a main character's own emotional space, and in a most natural manner.  

I've chosen an example from my recent YA novel, "Leaving Major Tela," about a young woman, Caitlin, reared by a strict, army officer mom, and given an opportunity to find her independence while having to temporarily live with her divorced dad:

The pot fumes were most fragrant near a long, glassed-in porch at one side of the house, and they wandered through the doorway there.  Stopping next to an elephant-leaf palm tree growing in a redwood tub, they lit their cigarettes and listened-in on the conversation.  A dozen boys and girls were there, some sitting on wooden Adirondack lounge chairs; others straddled on straight-back chairs brought out from the dining room.  They passed around the last tokes of a dying roach, held by a metal clip at the end.
“When is he going to get here?” someone named Jay groused.  “This roach is hereby pronounced dead.”
“Product’s been a little tight lately,” his friend said.  “Wouldn’t surprise me if he asked for a price jump on this run.”
“Yeah.”  Jay looked over at the newcomers.  “What kind of junk are you two smoking?”
“Regular old tobacco-stuffed coffin nails, sorry,” Luka said.
“Come over here, and let’s get a look at you,” Jay said.  “Do I know you?”
The two girls walked over to where he sat in a propped-up lounge chair.  “We’ve met before,” Luka said.  “You came to a showing at my mother’s art gallery a few months ago.  We talked, remember?”
“Oh yeah, got it; you were the chick passing around the finger food and champagne. You know, that artist really sucked.  Did you sell any of his stuff?”
“My mom said he had the third biggest opening night sales of any artist she’d handled over the last two years.”
He scowled and turned to Caitlin.  “Were you there, too?  Did you see all that welded brass rod and polished aluminum tube crap?  Do you like that sort of sculpture?”
“Well, I didn’t see the exhibit, but no, it’s not my favorite sculpture.”
“Oh yeah--what is?”
Caitlin studied him.  He could have been twenty or so, a tangle of dark hair, long angular face, nice mouth.  He was so edgy though, and he had her on shaky ground about sculpture.  “Well, I haven’t seen all that much sculpture, just in Art Appreciation, but I often think of Verrocchio’s ‘David,’ and—“
He interrupted.  “Verrocchio’s?  You don’t mean Michelangelo’s?”
“No, I’ve seen Michelangelo’s too, but it’s so muscular, almost too perfect a male body.  Verrocchio’s was this slender, bushy-haired boy dressed in a sort of kilt, holding a sword, standing relaxed and with Goliath’s severed head lying between his feet.  Even just the screen image projected a whole room full of qi.”
“The severed head must have done it for you.  What the hell is qi?”
“Oh, well, you can think of it as his inner energy.”
“Hey, Jay, he’s here,” his friend said.  “Grab your money belt and let’s go.  He’s dealing in the kitchen.”

Caitlin and her friend, Luka, are at a neighborhood party, gathering material on student use of recreational drugs for their school newspaper article.  Caitlin's brief meeting and discussion with the new character, Jay, presented an opportunity to explore a number of his personality traits, and suggest possibilities for a relationship with Caitlin.  The statue of David, by Verrocchio, shows Jay having a sensitive nature--he sometimes attends art shows--and knows something about art.  He affects a macho attitude toward this powerful sculpture, but also seems impressed by Caitlin's response to it.
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