A picture is worth a thousand words, according to a cliche. And maybe it is. Throughout time, the visual arts has inspired many authors and poets alike. So, in this blog post, I’ll list 10 Western Art Movements that could inspire your creative writing.
Of course- Western Art isn’t the only art in the world! Western art happens to be where my knowledge is. However, I enjoy studying art from Japan and India in particular, so that may be a future blog post!
Note: these art movements are not in any particular order, but I tried to keep my choices to a relative time scale. All years are in AD (The Year Of Our Lord).
Art Movement Number One: Medieval And Middle Ages (500-1400)
A time known for brutality, death and disease. However, medieval art is captivating. This is mainly due to the ambitious religious themes, the gorgeous colours, the beautiful forms of media (stained glass, frescos, etc). I particularly love Gothic art, because it’s so rich in meaning. Overall, medieval art is a marriage between the classcisim of ancient empires with the reality of the middle present.
This is remarkable for writers. When I personally craft stories, I blend commentary of the present with ‘higher’ ideals. Such values are usually inspired by morality and philosophy. Medieval art also teaches writers that mysteriously, we never write alone. There is always a force, whether spiritual or not, to guide and to shape us…
Art Movement Number Two: Renaissance Art (1400-1600)
Few art movements are as incredible as Renaissance art.
I’m a sucker for all things Renaissance. It’s a period so rich in drama and turmoil, but also genius that it belongs on any credible list of art. Everything feels life and death in the Renaissance. With origins in incredible cities like Florence, Venice and Rome, studying Renaissance art is essential for any writer.
And why is that? Because just as Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you too, can craft an exceptional masterpiece that will take people’s breath away, centuries later. The Renaissance is proof of what man can achieve, and that includes writers as well.
Art Movement Number Three: Baroque (1600-1750)
With an emotional edginess and over-the-top aesthetic, baroque captures the dreams and desires of any writer. Laced with fantastic shades, adoring details, grandeur and surprise, it’s no wonder that Baroque is remembered with such fanfare.
So why the fuss? Well… Baroque (and the next entry) had a reputation for ‘moral corruption.’ The period depicted lush imagery, but didn’t have the emotional fortitude to back it up. Whether or not that is true is up for debate (I don’t think it is, personally) but it’s a great lesson for writers, particularly speculative fiction writers.
If you are interested in creating a heavily detailed world that’s colourful and engaging, you should make it meaningful and give it some depth. Readers enjoy that, and will come back to your story years later. Either way, Baroque earns my fascination. Which brings me to…
Art Movement Number Four: Rococo (1699-1780)
Look, okay. Rococo is a personal and acquired taste. It’s not for everyone, with the fancy pastel colours, the golden swirls, the symmetry, and the weird almost fetish for flowers. But I love it, primarily because it’s so unique, personalised and beautiful.
Often, writers are afraid to be true to themselves. The amount of writers that I encounter who doubt themselves is significantly high. Rococo inspires me to be authentic, and to write a far-fetched story that may not have a high selling power. And I will admit- I do want my stories to cause awe and surprise! What writer doesn’t? Plus, I like the small details of Rococo- such as the East Asian influences.
Rococo art isn’t beautiful because of the colours used, or from featuring flowers. No, it is beautiful due to its ambitions, and desire to capture the elegance of emotions such as awe. It’s an emotionally evocative experience, even if the art form is too fanciful for its own good.
Art Movement Number Five: Romanticism (1780-1850)
Romanticism is more of a state of mind than an actual point of history. We know it when we encounter it, or feel it ourselves. From interpreting the past as a lush paradise, to celebrating individualism and nature, Romanticism is a period that leaves me with mixed feelings.
However, whats important about romanticism is that it is essentially a reaction against the Industrial Revolution. The world was changing, rapidly, and artists (for better or for worse) grabbed a paint brush, and understood the changing landscape through a critical, yet empathetic lense. What I particularly love about Romanticism is that it brought a new approach to the table. We suddenly had paintings depicting a stormy sea, a depressing winter and the horror of a dusky alleyway. Rich emotions, including horror, fear and terror, now had a place in art.
The very best writers bring new elements of the human experience to the table. The Romantics brought emotional turmoil and passion. The question is: what will you bring?
Art Movement Number Six: Impressionism (1865–1885)
Having been to Paris earlier this year, and having the pleasure of seeing Monet’s work, it’s hard to not be inspired by impressionism. With small brush strokes, clever use of light and plain subject matter, impressionist paintings look like they have been sculptured in time.
What I find so inspiring about impressionism is that it inspires people to be subtle and clever. Whilst I do love the over-the-top nature of Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo art, there is a simple elegance in impressionism. Because of that, impressionist art is particularly powerful and potent.
Writers can always benefit from being subtle, clever and thoughtful. Sometimes, the book that gets everyone’s attention isn’t the biggest or the boldest. It’s the one that is smart enough to put a mirror up to normal life, and to reflect back something that the mirror-holder has not yet considered.
Art Movement Number Seven: Futurism (early 20th century)
Futurism will involve mixed responses. Some love it, some hate it, whilst others just feel hot and bothered. Personally, I’m fascinated by futurism and it’s dynamic portrayl of movement and life.
Writers will gain alot of inspiration from futurism, particularly social science writers. If you love Ayn Rand or Yevgeny Zamyatin, then chances are, futurism has something for you. Futurism is part chaos, part dream and part science fiction. There is no denying the kinetic energy behind futurism and the passion it brings. As writers, we should strive for that as well.
Art Movement Number Eight: Cubism (1907–1914)
Often confused with futurism, cubism is like futurism, but with more cocaine. Just kidding! Cubism often featured ‘real’ objects and shapes, through the curious lenses of fragmentation. Cubism is also breezy with how analytical it is, and how different it seems. I know people who dislike cubism with an intense fire, but can’t look away.
As writers, this advice writes itself. We need books that offer unique perspectives and are radical in their interpretation of life. Sometimes, writers have to be polarizing and bizaare. I also love how cubist artists would just focus on something as simple as a chair. That’s quite inspiring, as writers may benefit from devoting time to the ‘basic.’
Rock on, cubism!
Art Movement Number Nine: Surrealism (1916–1950)
It’s whack, it’s genius, it makes no sense. It’s surrealism! You can stare at a painting with a man as an apple for a face and have no blooming clue what it means.
What I love about surrealism, is that although it is odd, there is restraint and order. Surrealist artworks evoke curiousity and pleasure, but never feel out of place. Often, I see and watch fiction that is ‘weird for the sake of being weird.’ Surrealism does not do that. It backs the ‘freakiness’ with substance and meaning. Some of the best surrealist artists tackled tough issues such as warfare and depression with their work.
As writers, that is a priceless lesson. Don’t be weird for the sake of it, be weird because it’s the only thing that makes sense.
Art Movement Number Ten: Pop Art (1950s–1960s)
The final entry in regards to western art movements, we have pop art. With the vibrant colours and the kitchen sink aesthetic, pop art is cool and hip. It’s also strange and timeless. There’s also an electric sense of humour with pop art, and a uniqueness that could be best described by playing David Bowie.
So what can writers learn about pop art? Besides ‘be cool’? Well, writers don’t have to be cool! But, writers can benefit from utilizing the well known, and putting a personal spin on it. Writers ought to be innovative as well (Roy Lichtenstein comes to mind) in their creative pursuits.
What I love about pop art is that it encourages awareness about the world around you. As writers, we should think about current events, pop culture, reality, commerce, the latest cool items. I know it may be boring- but there is so much to learn, to discover, and to change.
So, there you have it! Ten western art movements that will inspire any creative writer. What’s your favourite? What should have I included? Do you have a favourite painter? Comment below!