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Write like Van Gogh or…

October 5, 2015

Write like your favorite artists throughout history painted. The ones who made history, and even those who didn’t. Breaking rules, from the heart, after years or decades of practice. And standing on shoulders of giants who went before them, by following those genius paths, though still originating their own style. Coloring outside conventional lines, or just drawing their own lines altogether.

From Van Gogh to Claude Monet, from Da Vinci to Michelangelo, from Mary Cassatt to O’Keeffe, from Frederick to Edmund Leighton, from J. S. Sargent to George Romney, from Degas to Renoir… and the list goes on and on. Pick Picasso or any artist who inspires or resonates with you, and ask yourself why. Why do you love that art? What is it about the style or technique that speaks to you personally? Why do you keep coming back to look? And why do you buy?

I love art with meaning I can relate to or art that makes me feel. Especially in a good way. In this world of too much bad, mostly I want to feel good. I crave pretty pictures. Or simply colorful. Something pleasing to the eye. When it comes to fiction, I prefer happy endings, interesting people and main characters I can look up to or learn something from. True heroes and heroines. And believable villains that I feel free to despise.

With art, I’m drawn to things of beauty, goodness, family, or celebrating nature’s original art. Sunsets, stars, flowers, greenery, the sky and water in its many forms. Lately, Van Gogh and Monet capture that energy, those impressions, expression, contrasts and colors I marvel at when I go outside or travel. Or see in my vibrant dreams. And, Mary Cassatt has always lovingly touched on relationships of especially mothers and their children. I love to see true art that is family. Norman Rockwell’s art was memorable that way.

As a writer who was more an artist first, and a novelist who has studied classic art and literature many years, I keep thinking about my love of art, and how that focus relates to my own artistic endeavors. I’ve been pondering my favorite paintings and prose. Why do I feel the need to emulate them? What is their power over me? Why do they call to me, still, after so many years? And why must I create in kind?

Painting and writing are more similar than some might expect. Studying the works of masters you admire, emulating what you love, then honing your own style out of it all. The planning, sketches, adding details, and polishing until you’ve got something worth showing or sharing. Painting or writing, the process is basically the same.

Lately, I want to write like Van Gogh painted. Expressively. But uniquely me. Faux Van Gogh? Perhaps. Shutting myself away, breaking imposed rules, not caring if people call me crazy, using all the colors I love, writing with an expressive brush, painting stories that call to me personally. Feeling free to create fiction all my own.

Set yourself free to write or paint as inspired, and to evolve, to embrace ‘periods’ or ‘moods’ – like Van Gogh’s predominantly yellows or blues. When happy, write happy, when somber, write that way too. And mix it up too. One story doesn’t have to only evoke one feeling, nor hold to one arbitrary genre. And characters can be complex, like people tend to truly be.

So, before you try to write like Van Gogh painted, or any other masterful artist whose work you might admire, spend some time just drinking those paintings in. Live in their ambiance. Pay attention to what moods they paint in you, what thoughts are awakened, and any visions that haunt or seek you. Maybe even paint a little with that sense of being, before you begin writing that way. But, whatever you do, write like you’d love to paint.

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