The Naked Art of Writing and Painting

I remember once deciding to do a large canvas painting. I planned to include several figures in it, using sketches of models from an art class I once attended. I really didn’t know where I was going with it; and I’ll be the first to admit I’m an okay, but not a particularly gifted painter.

Some artists talk about staring at large canvases and being frightened. How do you fill all that emptiness? I did not quite feel that way. In fact, I felt reckless. I thought, what the heck. I can always gesso over it if it doesn’t come out the way I want it to. Or cut if up for smaller tableaus.

Confronted by the titanium whiteness of the canvas, I selected a sketch I liked. The model looks confident, sure of herself. I painted it almost smack in the middle of the canvas. By many artists’ reckoning, this figure is not just nude. She’s naked.

What makes this woman naked, instead of nude? Presumably, it’s because she seems vulnerable and, maybe, feels shame in being totally unclothed. “Nude” is supposedly artsy, above all the sexy or juicy connotations of “naked.”

Titian, Venus d'Urbino from Wikipedia
Titian, Venus d’Urbino from Wikipedia

The figure I painted, I realized is a commitment. Painting it in that location and with a specific pose plunges me in a certain direction.

I neither gessoed over that painting nor cut it up for smaller canvases. When it was finished, I could see it contained themes that mattered to me.

I believe we all keep defining ourselves throughout our lives around some central question we nuance endlessly. For me, the perennial question is what being female means in this society and at this time. It’s a question I’ve turned over in my head and answered many times in different ways. So, perhaps inevitably, it became the subject of this painting.

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I see now that I approach writing like I did that painting. A broad, empty canvas on which I could do what I wanted. But on which I could also come out stark naked. (We never say “stark nude,” do we?) But as with a painting, I could zap what I’ve written with one tap of a finger on the keyboard, if I don’t like it or its nakedness makes me cringe.

I know now that this perennial question is also at the heart of novels I’ve written. While a love story is often at the core of my novels, I usually choose the much-too-general “Women’s Fiction” as an Amazon category.

My goal—if you want to call it that—in writing my novels is to nuance what it means to love, mostly from the woman’s point of view. But loving is not something you can take outside the context of a how a particular life is lived. So, ultimately, the story also becomes one about life, about real issues women and men face.

One particular review of the book, Hello, My Love by Angela, a freelance writer, blogger, and stay at home mama, captures this essence beautifully:

I saw the cover and expected more of a superficial story with superficial characters and little else. I found, instead, a life story about love, life, mistakes, and a bit of mystery.

Earlier, she says,

This is not a sappy, dialogue filled, romance book with endless love scenes and little substance. E Journey loads this book with detail, description and develops both characters and plot lines to their resolution. I enjoyed the writing style, I enjoyed the realism, and I enjoyed the depth of the story. (And this comes from a non-romance-novel-fan!) I enjoy a romance with a story beyond the romance–and this book brings that and more.

Okay, that last quote is my naked (buck naked, in fact) attempt to plug the book—something authors aren’t supposed to make a naked art of.

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net (http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net (http://FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
In romance novels, the focus really is the male protagonist. They’re written to appeal to women, their main consumers. Thus, book covers often feature pecs, broad shoulders, and bulging arms. Or Adonis at the point of ravishing the reader in the guise, perhaps, of Aphrodite. (In Greek mythology, Adonis actually ignores Aphrodite’s attempts to seduce him).

I love love stories. That’s why I plunk them in the center of the novels I write. But my main reason for writing a novel is not so much to titillate, or induce heaving bosoms in women―although I do some (or just a little) in respectful obeisance to the romance genre―but to get into the hearts and minds of the couple in love. This approach probably won’t appeal to hard-core romance readers, and that’s okay. A review of the first book in the series, Between Two Worlds once said the “chemistry between protagonists isn’t crackling”—quite an original and creative word choice, really, fierier than the oft-preferred word “sizzling.” Though, without the steam.

But I ask, how do you make a deeply-felt emotion crackle? Only through frequent steamy love scenes? Lust, though it may give birth to or accompany love, is not the same thing as love. Sometimes, love is best conveyed through quiet gestures.

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