For Monday, May 2, 2016:
“The art of the word is painting + architecture + music.”
Two images come immediately to my mind whenever I read this quote. One is of some of the book covers from the 1940s and ’50s, where Art Deco style and cityscape buildings were the featured style on hardcover dust jackets. The other is kind of a blend of my mother, her sister, and their parents sitting in front of the long shelves of their family library.
My mother was a musician, my aunt was a watercolorist, my grandfather was an artist and an architect, and my grandmother, also a musician, could recite almost any poem at the drop of a hat and was something of a poet herself. Mother and Daddy Tom were the two quote-unquote professionals, but all of their family used the arts in every aspect of their daily lives.
The paternal side of my lineage is similar: music and engineering wove in and out of their lives in myriad vocational and avocational directions, and I remember many happy hours reading the volumes and volumes from their bookshelves as well.
So I have an idea, even if through osmosis – and the years of reading the books in their collected libraries – of the three disciplines that make up Zamyatin’s art of the word. As I’ve said here before, I consider my art and literature heritage a tremendous blessing. Until I read this particular quote, however, I never really considered how the three facets can come together to make words.
Neither have I felt all that comfortable calling what I do ‘art.’ While I have no trouble calling other writers artists, I had long been hesitant to include myself in that appellation. I always tried to build effective structures when I wrote, and I always strived to make my words sing or evoke appropriate images in readers’ minds, but art …? Not so much. At least not compared to the accomplished artists in my family.
Perhaps, I thought, it’s because the disciplines in writing are less visible to the eye of the beholder.
I should have known better. I knew firsthand how much the musicians in our family practiced every day, even down to the simplest of scales and vocal warm-ups. I knew about the regular classes the painters, engineers, and architect had to take, and I saw the progress of their ‘studies’ (the visual art equivalent to writers’ first, second, and third drafts) that filled their drafting tables and easels. I knew all this, but not everyone is aware of what goes into a polished musical performance or a stunning painting ahead of time and behind the scenes.
Even so, it was not until I was an adult and undertook some art courses of my own, that I realized the similarities between writing – my own, at least – and the other arts. By then, of course, I had taken all kinds of writing classes, gone to writers’ conferences, and practiced, practiced, practiced, and was encouraged by family and teachers and other writers. Something finally fell into place, though, and I really saw the erasure marks on painters’ studies and even, sometimes, their eventual final products. I finally realized we had a lot in common.
I know. Talk about a ‘duh’ moment. It was embarrassingly long in coming, but it was worth it. Now I carry all the artists in my family on my shoulders as I pursue my own version of art in the world of words, and I do believe they smile every once in a while and maybe even whisper ‘Welcome to the club.’