Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Picasso and Writing Groups

I recently returned from a trip to Paris. While there, we saw famous landmarks, beautiful buildings, and tons of artwork. We also learned a lot. We did a few guided tours and of course had our handy Rick Steve's guidebook (can I just say that Rick Steve is amazing?). One thing that kept jumping out at me during our visit was the fact that famous artists had support groups. 

Montmartre is a neighborhood built on Paris' only hill and topped by a church built to honor the martyr Saint Denis. (The story goes that after he was beheaded, he picked up his head and carried it several miles while continuing to preach). In Montmartre, we visited the home of the artist Pablo Picasso. You know him as the great mover and shaker of Cubism. Picasso lived in a little apartment with several other artists. They painted together, frequented the same cafes and clubs, talked about art, learned from each other, and supported each other. I found it very refreshing to think about these struggling artists celebrating each others' successes and cheering each other on.

As our trip through Paris continued, we encountered numerous stories of struggling artists relying on one another for support.

The impressionist Monet was friends with Renoir, Sisley, and Bazille. Together, they pushed the boundaries and started a new movement. One of Monet's earliest works, a painting of a sunset, was criticized by in-the-know critics as being "only an impression of a sunset" (hence the name Impressionism). The fact that Monet and his friends were pushing the boundaries together probably gave them the courage to continue doing what they loved even though the public didn't appreciate it.

The sculptor Rodin, creator of the statue "The Thinker", studied and learned by visiting the Louvre and sketching copies of works by Rafael and DaVinci, among others. One of his greatest works, The Gates of Hell, was commissioned for a church that was never finished. So the piece was left unfinished as well, after he'd spent a decade working on it. (The Thinker was actually a part of the Gates of Hell, and was meant to be Dante, sitting at the top and surveying what he'd written about).

Contrast these stories of artists supporting and learning from each other with the life of Van Gogh, father of the Expressionist movement. Van Gogh didn't get along well with others. He was roommates with the artist Gauguin briefly, until the arguments between them escalated. A sword and throwing stuff was involved. Van Gogh eventually committed suicide, having sold only one painting during his entire life. But he is now hailed as one of the greatest painters of all time.

Hopefully you know where I'm going with this. As writers, it is so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds where we work so hard to create something beautiful and fall equally hard when the public doesn't get it. When this happens--when the public is saying our art is merely an impression of art--having a support network is crucial to our sanity. I can't tell you how many times my writer friends have encouraged me when I felt like giving up or made me laugh on a day full of rejection.

Don't give in to the temptation to stay in your comfort zone, leaning on the excuse that you're an introvert so it's okay. It's not okay. Get outside yourself. Meet people who share your passion. Learn from them. Support them. And lean on them.

Learn from the examples of Picasso and Monet. As artists, we need each other. Having a support network makes us better writers and better human beings.

Sunset by Claude Monet


  1. I loved this! And I'm jealous you got to go to Paris. btw, I often think Van Gogh had more than just artist-issues. He used to carry string in his pocket and argue with people that his favorite colors (the colors on the string) were better than other people's favorite colors or that certain color-combos were better. He has convinced millions that he's right, but if he were in my writing group, I know of several members who would bail. Haha! Anyway, I'm glad I'm able to be pleased more than Van Gogh. :)

  2. Dang, was it clear that I was saying writing groups and support rocks? And I love Van Gogh? And Paris and everything else?

  3. I couldn't agree more! So much about writing is a solitary journey -- or one with our characters and their stories -- and that's exactly why it's important to have a support system of writer friends. I'll forever be grateful for the writing community, for the connections I've made with wonderful people who truly "get" it. It's such a blessing. :)

    Glad you had a great time in Paris!!

  4. Nikki, thanks for the added Van Gogh facts. I laughed out loud!