Paint Vs Prose

July 2, 2017 | By | 3 Replies More

Not that it’s a competition but as a professional artist who has recently become a published author, I can’t help but compare the creative processes that characterise the two modes of artistic expression i.e. painting and writing. What are the similarities and how do they differ?

‘Difficult pleasure’ is how renowned Australian painter, Brett Whiteley, described the creative process before dying of a heroin overdose in 1992. Making art can be exasperating, stimulating, challenging, joyful, confronting, exhilarating, soul destroying, nerve-wracking and utterly engrossing – all in the same day.

Some mornings, I’ll pop into the studio with the intention of taking a quick peek at the painting I’d been working on the day before, only to find myself at four o’clock standing there, paint brush in hand, unwashed, unfed and wearing only my undies–belly bare and breasts streaked with paint.

It’s the same with writing. Dawn seamlessly slides into dusk and I’ll look up from my laptop, my armpits a bit whiffy, my stomach growling and realise that I haven’t had a shower or anything to eat. For someone whose every waking moment, when not at a keyboard or covered in paint, revolves around food, how is this possible? Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say that I’m in the ‘flow’, so absorbed in what I’m doing I’m unaware of my bodily needs or the passing of time.

For the most part, painting and writing are solitary pursuits. Unless they’re dealing with a gallery director, an art courier or sales assistant at an art supply shop, artists generally spend their days, and often their nights, working alone in their studio. Other than the occasional and usually lively meeting with a literary agent, an editor or a publisher, writers tend to lock themselves in their bedroom or home office, trying to ignore their kids (if they have any) banging on the door.

The renowned abstract and minimalist painter Agnes Martin believed that when you empty your mind, you can see things when they come into it. When I paint, I paint intuitively and find, as did Agnes, that thinking gets in the way – short circuiting an otherwise untainted flow of creativity.

Not so with writing. In writing my recently published memoir, Hippy Days, Arabian Nights, I let everything in. I had to remember, analyse, reflect, unpack and deconstruct; to drag up some pretty painful experiences – really go there and relive them – in graphic detail. Like the day we shot our sick donkey, when my two of my daughter’s school friends were abducted and brutally murdered, my father’s suicide when I was 16 and that violent night in Italy.

An artist knows when a painting is finished. Don’t ask me how. They just do. But for every written word there’s a veritable multiverse of alternatives.

Until your publisher manages to wrangle your manuscript from your Gollum-like grip, you’re a dog with a bone. Charlotte Brontë drove herself to distraction trying to decide between the name Miss Frost or Miss Snowe for the heroine in her literary masterpiece Villette; the names not that dissimilar yet each evoking a very different impression.

Whether to use the word ‘run’ or ‘race’, ‘dash’ or ‘dart’, ‘scoot’ or ‘scamper’, ‘hurry’ or ‘hasten’ – that is the mind-frying question. American writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote ‘every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action’. Picasso claimed ‘it took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child’. And I couldn’t have put it better!

Katherine Boland is an Australian artist/author living in Melbourne, Australia. She has exhibited her artwork throughout Australia and overseas and has been the recipient of numerous art prizes, grants and scholarships. Her paintings are included in corporate, public and private collections in Australia, Europe, Asia and the US. Katherine’s memoir, Hippy Days, Arabian Nights was long-listed for the Mslexia Literary Award for Memoir in the United Kingdom in 2014 and published by Australian publisher Wild Dingo Press in May 2017.

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Category: On Writing

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  1. This is 100% exactly how I feel, thank you Katharine Boland for putting it into words so succinctly, so precisely. You could not have painted that but you wrote it perfectly!

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