What you get when you ask a Novelist to write about Art


I’ve had the recent privilege to write for some brilliant stars standing on the world stage of contemporary art, as a part of the 2017 Art! Vancouver Expo in British Columbia.

In my imagination, that means that I am now, not only a Novelist and a Screenwriter but an Internation Art Journalist as well… which is very smug and lends itself well to the private Bond-like fantasy I have of what kind of writer I am. I expect I should wear my nice jacket around the house for the rest of the day… and a scotch would fit nicely in my hand.

Getting to write Artist Spotlights for an international show might be the largest audience my writing has had so far. Being poor and unknown, and at the very beginning of a career – that’s pretty spiffy. It was rather surprising to be asked, since I’m new to Vancouver, and also because I didn’t go to college for Fine Art. I actually went to college for Music, only to then start telling stories for a living – go figure.

I was asked (which always feels good) if I’d be interested in writing introductions about people’s work and I said, of course, yes. Because that’s the only thing you can say when you want to be a writer. Of course yes I do, that’s not scary or out of my depth at’all at’all. And then I privately wondered what on earth do I possibly have to say about artists?

I’ve known lots of artists. I’ve worked with artists. I’m a writer. Artists love writers. Writers work very hard to explain things that sometimes only takes artists a few minutes to draw – and this is very fun and makes Artists feel good about what they do. Up until they have to explain what they do… and then us writers get to see the pleading eyes we live to see in any audience. It’s not symbiosis, but I don’t know what we’d do without each other.

So, the first thought one has about writing for art is to critique the work, and first thoughts are often wrong. Not always wrong, but you can usually do better. I thought, write art critiques… but I can’t do that, that’s incredibly boring, generally mean-spirited, and plus, I don’t know what, objectively, makes art good art or bad art. I don’t even really know what bad art is, I’m not that kind of audience – I read. Once I read about Warhol saying It’s Art so there’s nothing to prove. I tend to like things like that; things that exist outside of right or wrong. Especially things people work really hard to make, and make well. People usually don’t work really hard without a worthwhile reason, and the reason is usually there if you look for it. There’s inevitably a deeper context to almost everything everyone does, especially when they’re making art, there’s always something to see that you can miss if you want to. All that really happens when you decide if something is good or bad is that you verbally commit yourself unwilling to go any closer. Which is fine, that’s the privilege of an audience – you don’t need to like everything. But I’ve been on both sides, and I know there’s always something there worth finding. That’s why I’m stuck with this whole writing thing. And when people open their chests and smear it on canvas, well… it sure tends to tell a story, and I really like stories – that’s my open, vulnerable heart.

So, still trying to decide what to do, I thought, if I write these who’s likely to read them? Probably people who know a whole lot more about art than I do… so… what do I say to people who are already looking very close? They don’t care what I have to say. But then… what about the people who don’t know what to make of it all?

I remember being fourteen or so, going to an art show, staring at an object for long, uncountable minutes, eventually clawing upwards at nothing, saying whyyyyyyy! I really swear it’s all just a bunch of soup cans…

That was at an age when I still held regular conversations with myself. I talked to myself a lot more back then, trying to figure out identity, body hair, morality, females, and so forth. At that moment all my realities were immediate. I did not require much deep contemplation or reverie. I was preoccupied.

Over time I grew to understand more about the context in which art decants. Knowing, of course, that it’s about the deeper meaning, the story, that it’s what you see as an individual, and how that reflects what you might need to see. Art provides an opportunity to notice things about yourself by how you react to new or familiar ideas. At the end of the day, art is really about starting a conversation with yourself, in a world where people grow up to spend all of their energy on outward emotions.

And so I saw my ‘in’ to this whole talking-about-art business. Storytelling is simply facilitating an environment for people to experience things. That’s what I do. I get it. A lot of us, especially the new ones, are here to see art because of the story, and I can do stories. I can point to things in a way you might not have thought to look at them; things that might start that conversation. I know how to find the subterranean, the unsaid, the blurred double-meaning when you look past the thing in front of you. I can even find the moral of the story sometimes. I know how to talk about shadows, and fears, and joy, and lust, and insecurity, and bold light, and elusive thought processes. That’s easy. My whole life has been spent trying to find the words for the things I see. I get it! I don’t have to explain or evaluate anything, thank gawd, I can just point to things you might not have noticed and let you experience the story yourself. I can be of value to artists, of course I can – I’m a writer.

Of course artists and writers are allies – we’re after the same thing – we’re trying to do the same thing to you; we’re trying to start a dialogue. Inside or out. I guess that’s what art tends to be. Nothing to prove. Just hunting for the experience that can change you.

Art Vancouver 2017 – Blog (opens in new window)


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