“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Jr
In the introduction to the book, Kurt Vonnegut Drawings, daughter Nannette writes: “Dad thought being a full-time visual artist would have been much more fun than being a writer.” Echoes Vonnegut: “And may I say parenthetically that my own means of making a living is essentially clerical, and hence tedious and constipating…The making of pictures is to writing what laughing gas is to the Asian influenza.”
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I agree with Vonnegut: visual artmaking is loads of fun. We part company, though, on his view of writing. I love the process, the journey, the deep and messy discovery ride. Otherwise, I could not have written 17 books and counting.
Yes, some aspects of writing can feel tedious. However, playing with the writing toys in my chest has greatly minimized some of that tedium. Also, visual art, in particular, has inspired many new writing projects and advanced my craft in surprising directions.
This is not unusual. Many writers also paint, dance or play a musical instrument. Same with actors. Comedian/actors Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy play banjo and guitar, respectively. Songwriter Marshall Mathers III (Eminem) sketches. Actor Robert Dinero paints. So does writer Natalie Goldberg and comedian Jim Carey. It’s rare for artists to have only one art form. However, they do have a primary one. And it’s often the secondary and tertiary art practices that fuel it. “Drawing has always been a way for me to relax,” writes Eminem in his visual memoir The Way I Am. “It still is.”
Primary art practice for me is writing. I also sing, dance, paint, collage, design clothes and craft paper dolls. These secondary and tertiary practices help me on the page:
As with Eminem, they are kinesthetic meditations that relax me.
When I have too many expectations about writing, my visual art practice reminds me that all artmaking is a journey, not an end goal.
Writing is immersive, often producing an otherworldly trance state. It requires tremendous brain juice, which has a short but rechargeable life. Visual art practice is one type of recharger, a productive way for me to break between writing sessions. During that time, creative juice continues to flow, and the door to the Muse remains open. This allows my brain to rest from the intensity and focus that rearranging words requires.
Visual art practice gets me out of my head and into my body. I can maintain the flow of productivity while I recharge my brain’s cognition channel. It’s akin to writing on a laptop while it’s simultaneously charging.
I love Vonnegut’s collection of drawings. He’s inspired me try this visual art form that I’ve typically avoided. The blog headline image is my version of a Vonnegut drawing.
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Are you challenged with getting to the page? Unleash those paints, crayons, Sharpies, cameras and canvases collecting dust in storage and start doing what you love! A regular visual art practice – drawing, painting, photography, cartooning, sketching, coloring, collaging – will improve your experience relating to the page, no matter how long you’ve been writing, at what level or whether or not you publish.