What Other Forms of Art Can Teach You About Writing

BY CHELSEA ENNEN • June 16, 2023

What Other Forms of Art Can Teach You About Writing

Every writer knows how important it is to read. Read in and outside your genre, read new books, classic novels, short stories, plays—read everything. 

As writers, the written word is our form of artistic expression. But there are infinite ways to create art, to craft something that will communicate a message or feeling to an audience. 

If you need to find alternatives to reading while deep in a first draft, or you feel as if your stories are missing something you can’t quite identify, knowing how to interpret and fully appreciate other forms of art will only benefit your writing. 

Deepen Your Understanding of the Artistic Process 

Going to a gallery or museum can teach you a lot about how to improve your own art. 

It’s one thing to amble around and look at the images in the frames, but you’ll get so much more out of it if you really understand what’s going on. What was Jackson Pollock trying to express with all those splashes of paint? How did royal portrait painters place little symbolic touches in their paintings to communicate the class status of their subjects? How do religious paintings from different faiths portray—or not portray—deities and mythological stories? 

The people who work at museums put in a lot of work to contextualize art for the general public. Most museums will have little plaques, brochures, and even audio programs to give you additional information on the works of art you see. If you go to a specific exhibit, those materials will likely be especially detailed. So the next time you go to a museum, do more to really utilize those educational materials. Stop and read the plaques, pick up the brochures, maybe even take a specific tour. 

When you understand how painters make choices and why, you’ll have a better appreciation of the resulting work, and a better understanding of how an artist can take a thought or feeling and express it on paper. 

What Are You Trying To Say? 

Speaking of thoughts and feelings being expressed on paper, do you know what you’re trying to say with your writing? Or do you just have a vague notion that you’ve always liked a specific kind of genre?

So much goes into writing anything, be it the shortest poem or the longest epic fantasy series, that many writers lose sight of what it is they want to do with their art. They can even forget that writing is art. 

What are you trying to express? Is there a true emotional core to your writing, or have you gotten lost in the technicalities of your metaphorical brushstrokes on the page? Understanding a painting, or even a new piece of music at a concert, is different enough from what you’re used to that you’re likely to focus more on the heart of the work. That kind of clarity might shake something loose for you when you sit back down to your draft. 

How Do You Draw In An Audience? 

The latest gallery opening isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun night. Some of us would rather tune in to the occasional Marvel movie than keep track of indie films winning obscure international awards. 

And there’s nothing wrong with that! We’re lucky to live in a world with so much amazing art to take in—we can have our own preferences and still never have enough time to absorb it all. 

But a hard truth that most writers prefer not to think about is that a lot of the general public aren’t really big readers. If you go outside your circle of writer and book friends, you may find it more common to find people who only occasionally pick up a celebrity book club recommendation or only got through half of a George R. R. Martin book after watching the Game of Thrones series. 

Instead of being bitter, consider what makes you show up to something that isn’t your usual cup of tea. When you took that visit to the art museum and had a guided tour, what paintings stuck in your mind and why? Which ones were you not initially drawn to but came to appreciate through further context? What does it take for you to watch a new movie instead of rewatching the same old show you’ve seen a million times? 

It’s not about trying to follow a bland formula to appeal to everyone in the world—it’s about narrowing in on a hook that will convince a total stranger to spend their time reading your book out of all the other books out there. 

Be Curious

Don’t drag yourself to a museum as homework. Look for exhibits, artists, or any special events that pique your interests. Then you can really dive in to learn more about what you’re looking at, and how and why the artist made the choices they made in their work. 

Because whether you’re a painter, a pianist, or a poet, the goal is the same: to create something that forms connections between people and sticks in their hearts. 

Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and her dog. When not writing or reading, she is a fiber and textile artist who sews, knits, crochets, weaves, and spins.

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