Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Ekphrastic Writing August 14, 2010

Filed under: Writing — katblogger @ 2:49 PM
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“What on earth does that word mean?” you might be thinking. “It’s all Greek to me.”

Or probably not, since I haven’t seen someone say that in years. However, it is Greek, a term that refers to writing inspired by art.

Ekphrastic writing has a noble, if dull, beginning. (I’m retelling this story from a lecture a wonderful writing teacher of mine once gave. I hope he doesn’t mind me borrowing his talking points.) Apparently, the Ancient Greeks were worried about the longevity of their statues. (A fair point, when you consider a great many of them have been hacked out of their places or walls and transported to museums. I’m looking at you, Britain.) Anyway, to preserve them forever they hired writers to describe each statue, down to every last detail.

Now, I wouldn’t want to read that, much less write it. But never fear – ekphrastic writing no longer means lovingly describing Venus de Milo’s left elbow (which actually might be nice, since her arms are missing). These days, any piece of writing based on, inspired by, or related to a piece of artwork qualifies as ekphrastic writing. You could write a poem about Van Gogh’s sunflowers, or devise a short story about the winged goddess Nike. A walk through the museum can result in some beautiful work. On my last trip, I produced a short quip about Confucius and trees, as well as a poem about shabati that needs work. I’ve even, on occasion, written about a depressed hairpin. It’s a lot of fun, and makes those dull pictures and artifacts come alive.


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