Friday, January 22, 2010

Words Without Words

A4 Paper Cut
is an amazing site that expands my ideas about messages and paper. See the artist's notes at the end . . .

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Interview With an Artist

It is cumbersome to track back from something wonderful to explain the way I got there in the first place. So let's start with the something wonderful, Refractions of Eternity: An Interview with Makoto Fujimura, a rare type--Presbyterian elder and renowned artist.*

My daughter is exploring her vocation in art as she chooses among colleges for further study, and Mr. Fujimura's recommendations helped steer us toward Gordon College and Union University; she's also considering our local Grove City College, where she would minor in art. It's an exciting time helping her think through the issues and opportunities, and the ideas expressed in this interview have application to writing as well. I've been reading Peter Ho Davies' Equal Love, a collection of short stories in which I find a "thread of grace" such as Fujimura mentions. Great stuff to think about.

*I got to the interview via Joe Carter's post on First Things, and he got it from Gene Veith, who was a professor to Stewart K. Lundy, the interviewer and owner of the blog Drunken Koudou. Whew.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Sentence Exercise--Modifying Phrases

My local high school students recently had an assignment adapted from Brooks Landon's Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft. Learn more from my post here.

In this particular assignment they were to use modifying phrases to create a sentence with this structure:

They sat down at the table, he _________,
his _________, his ________,
she _______,
her ________, her ________,
the table _________,
its __________, its __________,
the overall scene suggesting ____________.

The real danger of this sentence form, which some have discovered, is falling into the temptation to make independent clauses out of the modifying phrases, like this:

They sat down at the table, he pulled out the chair for her so she could sit down, his eyes marvelling at her black silk dress, his cheeks reddening with cmbarrassment realizing that he had missed a button, she buttoned the button for him, her cheeks were reddening with a warmth of love, her eyes glancing him over, the table set before them, its layout perfect, its craftwork without flaw, the overall scene suggests that they are in love.

I really like the little story created in this scene, but those verbs need to be changed to "pulling," "buttoning," "reddening" (without the "were"), and "suggesting." For the remaining samples, I've made small grammatical corrections.

This student was hungry, I think:

They sat down at the table, he cutting the turkey, his face in solemn concentration, his hands working back and forth thoughtfully, she patiently waiting for him to be done, her plate covered with stuffing, her napkin in her lap, the table weighed down with food, its highly polished surface covered with an elaborate tablecloth, its size a little big for the two people, the overall scene suggesting Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's a very different atmosphere with the same setup:

They sat down at the table, he with his feet crossed on its top, his hands laced behind his head, his gray eyes glaring at her, she angry as a wet cat, her arms crossed over her chest, her black eyes returning his daggers, the table seemingly unaware of the tension, this candlelit dinner fitting a romantic occasion, its rich settings contrasting the duo's shabby clothes, the overall scene suggesting an ill-matched couple's nightmare.

And this one uses the scene to suggest a whole story:

They sat down at the table, he grinning mischievously, his boyish face lit up, his blue eyes twinkling, she patiently serving him food, her tired face lined with care, her heart loving her little boy, the table almost bare, its chipped surface holding only two slices of bread and some cooked vegetables, its marred carvings indicating past wealth, the overall scene suggesting a recent war.

This exercise is an example of how creativity can work within the strictures of formulaic writing, the structure exercising students' grammatical skills and resourcefulness. These sentences might not translate well into the context of a full paragraph or story, but each provides good material from which to work in editing to a better result. It is much easier to start with something than to start with nothing.

A Definition: Creativity

Student Andrew Manning has recently created for my Apprenticeship Writing Workshop a nice definition of Creativity, which I post below.

I created my own definition using the same model, Sojourner Truth's "An't I a Woman?" See my piece and the assignment details here.

It is certain that in today’s fallen world creativity is greatly admired. It is generally celebrated in the artwork of modern artists who grab any passing thought and put it on canvas. They are considered “creative” for their splashes of paint and bold strokes of the brush which politely skip over meaning and evoke emotional responses from the viewers. But is that the essence of creativity?

Some say that creativity is free, easy, and merry; that it soars through the clear skies with nothing to clasp it and bring it down. They say that it touches ideas and then dances on with as much reliability as the wind. I’ve tried to integrate these ideas into my own artwork. I’ve tried to chase after my own fantasies. I’ve tried to abandon reality completely. I’ve tried to become enveloped with giddy illusions. I expected a change in my works and assuredly it did come, but I find no real beauty in them now. All I find is confused ideas, so unclear and distant that they are not even distinguishable from one another. And am I not creative?

Others say that creativity is “getting in touch” with one’s inner self, and unleashing it. We all possess a fantastically creative side but it is found within the deep recesses of one’s being. I have searched. Nearly every possible aspect of my soul have I brought into the light and examined. When confronted with a blank piece of paper I have closed my eyes and sat in the quiet, seeking, searching, probing within. I did not find it. And am I not creative?

Still others say creativity encompasses not only the good, but also the evil, the unproductive and oft destructive. They view dark and morbid intent as a subject of creativity, a thing to dwell in and be moved by. The good, the right, the true; they are forsaken for the pursuit of the wicked, the disparaging, and even the indolent. I also have dipped my fingers in that foul water to test it. What I felt was not the cool refreshing creativity as they called it, but a vile mere that tried to suck me in. I withdrew my hand. And am I not creative?

Even after surfing the wave of fantasies and dreams, and “getting in touch” with my inner self, and languidly waiting for creativity to show up at my door, I found it eluded me. So then, what is creativity and where does it hide? But first: why does creativity exist at all? Is not all our creativity a reflection of God’s creation which he made to be perfectly ordered, and perfectly good? Did not God give us our creativity? True creativity is found in Christ, the original creator, not in any other. Because our inconsequential creative efforts exist only as reflections of Christ’s perfect creativity, we can be creative only if we rightly create as he did: in truth, in beauty, and in goodness.

---Andrew Manning
---Grade 10