Monday, April 6, 2009

Nonwritten Influences

A few of us have gone back and forth discussing who our writing influences are. For me, I'm also significantly influenced by other art forms.

Movies are more of a natural influence. I tend to write stories with multiple main characters and multiple story lines, so movies like American Beauty, Closer, and Princess Mononoke have been very influential to me. I watch them over and over again to learn how to pace multi-character stories and how to transition from one character to another.

But, other forms of art also inspire me. I love the music of Radiohead, for example. Whenever I listen to their album, OK Computer, I immediately feel like I want to duplicate what they are doing musically in my writing. Shostakovich also inspires me this way, as do the paintings of Agnes Martin and Paul Gauguin, just to name a few.

An obvious problem arises. How does one translate these different art forms into writing?

Can it be done?

One of the things I love about OK Computer is that the musicians make use of these intricate counterpoint lines to balance the main melodies. When the singer finishes a phrase, and before he starts a new one, another line of music rises up in the gap to keep your attention. These lines often overlap so that as one sound is tapering off, another is just developing. In my writing, though, I've never been able to do anything close to this. I've always felt trapped by the fact that our writing is so linear, that readers can only pick up one word, or one sentence, at a time. Poet John Ashbery has experimented with having poems that are meant to be read simultaneously, but I'm sure that borders on the fringe of what readers are willing to put up with. I know in my own experience of that particular poem (I think it was in The Tennis Court Oath, but I may be wrong) was that I ended up not understanding anything.

So, I often ask myself it is a pointless pursuit to try and translate music or painting into my writing? Perhaps the beauty of these separate art forms are that they are, indeed, separate. But, I realize that part of my motivation to write is so that I can take part in the creation of art that I find to be beautiful, and it saddens me to think that some things are "off limits".

Do you think that other forms of art can ever be more than just an inspiration to your art? Can you steal techniques from other artists the way you can steal from other writers?


  1. The different visual, aural, and written art forms can inspire each other, and while one may inspire the other, I don't think you can blend them together into a single medium.

    You can blend aural and visual: Music videos

    Aural and written: Books on tape, radio broadcasts with sound effects, acapella lyrics, etc.

    Written and visual: graphic novels.

    All three: movies with a good score.

  2. I believe the art forms can complement each other but never duplicate one another.

  3. I agree with Rick and Justus. They can compliment, but not duplicate. And I wouldn't want to duplicate them anyway. What would the point of that be? I think that movies are the ultimate because you have so many art forms all mixed together. Art, music, writing, acting, etc. That's why I love movies so much. :D

  4. I think that each of the arts does what it does magnificently because it focuses on its strengths. I've seen enough multimedia art installations to have strong suspicions that too many media spoil the broth, because you don't get the strengths of each. I like movies as much as the next person, but I don't think that the best film is in any way equal to the best symphony or poem or novel. I see films as a sort of hybrid form that somehow never live up to their potential. Possibly films don't actually have the same potential to transcend that other media have; I'm not quite sure. Possibly I'm just an old bore.

    That being said, when I'm writing I know that I have a lot of the same sorts of impulses I have when painting, writing music, or making a sculpture (not that I do any painting or sculpture these days). My ideas about balance and form are all pretty much the same across artforms, and during the first two revisions of my ms I was aware that I was shifting, cutting and adding in a way that was very reminiscent of sculpting. But do I consciously try to incorporate musical forms into my prose? Not really. I do use recurrent motifs and think about rhythm, but that's as far as I can take it.

    When I write, I usually put my iTunes on random shuffle, so I get a mixture of everything from 16th century cantatas to Breton folk music to Dylan to au courant alternarock. Though I tend to not want to have music with lyrics going. Which is, I know, beside the point of this post.

  5. I like this topic, I often find myself wondering about this.

    I recently discovered that I'm far less picky than I would have thought. I can be influenced by almost anything- movie, music, painting, photograph- as long as it is well put together.

    And I mean very well put together- structured, balanced and overall just well done. I also like anything that captures an emotion, and captures it strongly.

    For me, it's quite easy to find inspiration. However it's also quite easy to find ways to procrastinate. Hence my unending dilemma.

  6. Also agreed with Justus, different art forms compliment each other. The beauty of it is that one art form can inspire the other.

  7. Rick, so I guess the media you're talking about would be considered compound forms or something. I guess that makes sense. But I wonder if writing can be broken down to more elemental pieces the way the music video can be.

    Justus, maybe you're right. I think the attempt to do so on my part is just me wanting to have it all.

    Lady Glamis, I understand what you are saying. In a sense movies do have it all. It's issues like this that make me wonder if I should try to get into directing or something. If you admire movies so much, why do you concentrate on writing? I know you photograph as well, so obviously you have talent in these different forms.

    Scott, I have one other writer friend who insisted that movies could never be as good as books. Like with you, I admired this writer quite a bit, and the idea always intrigued me. I feel like I've seen some truly amazing movies. One group that comes to mind is the Three Colors Trilogy directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. I actually only saw Blue, but I thought it was as thorough as any book I've read. In The Bedroom was also quite good, in my opinion. To me, they can rival good books.

    Kat, I totally agree with you. Sometimes, the strangest things inspire me. I think maybe that's what I should have focused on in this topic. The problem is that I get inspired by so many things and I have a hard time channeling that inspiration into book form sometimes.

    Crimogenic, Yeah, I get your point. I guess maybe movies came out in an attempt to fuse writing and photography or photography and music, etc. Maybe if I want to be able to do these different things, writing isn't the form for me.

  8. As an undergraduate, I majored in cinematography and seriously consdiered going into that field, with an eye directing my own films.

    There were many reasons I changed direction, but most of them probably sprout out of my basic anti-social nature. In the end, any movie, even a shoestring indie production, is a collaboration with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people.

    I think that makes movies an amazing art form. But I am too much of a control freak. One attraction of novel writing is control of the creative project from beginning to end... least until I realized that even writing a novel involves creaative input from agents and editors. And socializing through blogs and whatnot.

    Still, for the most part, it's between you and the blank paper. My stories are movies with a cast of one.

  9. EWW, you've given us so much to think about. I love to be inspired by the other art forms but they can't be mixed or meshed together.

    If you could what would be the value in each one? Wouldn't they loose something? Isn't the fact that they can't be replicated what makes each art form so unique? :)

  10. Man, you beat me to this. Ever since I saw the last Batman movie, I'd been toying with the idea of media: movies/visual vs. books. Could Batman ever be a book? Likewise, look at the Bourne movies. They WERE a book originally--but the book lacks the intense action of the movies....

  11. I love the concept of all art inspiring more art--different types of art. I am moved by so many different things and they push me to express myself in the ways that I understand and am capable of manipulating. I sing, and there is nothing like singing a moving piece for feeling alive inside. Can I capture that in a painting? Perhaps, but I am restricted by the constraints of the medium. Does that matter? No. If I can capture that same transcendence in the paint it is a worthy endeavor.

    When we write we have to think in a linear fashion or lose the reader, but the reader can follow simultaneous actions. I was thinking about your Radiohead example. It seems to me that you could have a continuing action and pick up with another action before the former action ends then drop off the first action. In the readers mind those things overlap, but your writing is still linear. Thus, you incorporate the music into the constraints of the writing medium. Just a thought.

  12. Davin,

    I've seen movies that I thought were pretty great, and I can quote many of my favorites at annoying length, so I don't mean to disparage movies so much as I mean to say that for me at least, they never leave me as satisfied as does a really good book. Of the movies I've watched in the last couple of years, there have only been a handful where I didn't at some point look at my watch and hope the film was ending soon. I can watch a long film like "Lawrence of Arabia" and be swept away, but I still think a novel has more power, just as I think a symphony does, or a painting. Somehow, the more senses a medium engages in the audience, the less room there is in the work for the audience, and I find that counterproductive. I think. I haven't worked it all out yet, but when I've got my Unified Theory of Art finished, I'll let you know!

    I love "American Beauty," though. Brilliant film.

  13. Davin:
    I'm married to an actor. That's enough. :D


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