Last Friday I hung my first one-man photography show in a local gallery. I’ve been a dedicated amateur photographer for a long time now, though I’ve only gotten serious about it in the last four years or so. I have photos hanging in a second gallery here in town, alongside the work of other local artists. But as I say, this new exhibit, which opened Monday and runs through mid-May, is my first solo venture.
What does this have to do with writing? Nothing. And everything. Allow me to go off on another artistic tangent. I’m also a musician. I sing, and I’ve been playing guitar for over thirty years. I played quite a bit when I was younger — high school, college, graduate school. Once I started writing fiction professionally, and I assumed for a long time that this was because my profession provided me with the creative outlet I used to get from my music. I’ve come to realize, though, that the reason was slightly different. I’ve always been a decent singer and at my best I played guitar pretty well. But I never learned to write my own songs, at least not good ones. I got a rush from performing, but once my performing days were over I began to lose interest. It wasn’t that writing replaced music as my creative outlet. Rather, music no longer felt creative. I can play lots of songs — and I enjoy singing for my girls — but I don’t create music so much as replicate other people’s songs: James Taylor, Paul Simon, the Dead, John Hiatt, Jackson Browne, etc.
Photography, on the other hand, is all mine. It is an entirely creative endeavor and it draws upon my artistic instincts in ways that complement my writing. Part of what I do as a writer, in addition to creating characters and worlds and storylines, is translate visual imagery to words. Last week Catie wrote about visualization, and I commented that I do indeed visualize as I write. I picture a scene or a person in my mind and then describe what I “see”.
With photography, I don’t have to translate. It’s a different kind of challenge. Photography is about finding a story without the use of words. It’s about looking at a scene or an object and deciding what to include in the image and what to leave out, how to frame it, how to orient it. In a sense it’s about imposing order and narrative on visual stimuli that are, at times, inherently chaotic. It’s about finding patterns — not necessarily symmetrical patterns of the type we’re taught to make as children, but patterns that draw the eye to certain elements of the image. It’s about light and shadow, color and form, movement — yes, movement, even in a still photo — and stasis. In many ways, I believe photography is the perfect creative outlet for a writer, because writers and photographers approach imagery and narrative from opposite directions and wind up in very similar places.
Photography forces me to see details and visual motifs that I believe I’d otherwise miss. And this, in turn, enhances the descriptive passages I put in my writing. I think that my interest in music has helped me find rhythms and dynamics in my storytelling that improve my prose.
But that’s just me. The larger point I’m trying to make is that like so many other writers I know, the creativity demanded of me by my profession doesn’t satisfy completely my artistic needs. I know so many writers who are also painters, musicians, photographers, dancers. This isn’t to say that I don’t know lots of musicians or visual artists who pursue other forms of art, but this is so prevalent among the writers I know that it makes me wonder if there’s something larger at work.
Is there something inherent in writing that makes us seek out other arts as well? Are those of you who write professionally also engaged in other artistic pursuits? How do they influence your writing, if at all? For those of you who write more as a hobby, do you have other creative hobbies as well, and if so, how does these other forms of creativity interact with your writing?