Writing as Art

Monday, August 17, 2015

It is clichéd but true that art is in the eye of the beholder. You will never create a manuscript or paint a picture or even take a photograph that everyone loves. But you can increase the number of people who see it as art.

That’s why creative artists learn technique.

When I first got interested in photography, I bought a nice camera. I’m tech-savvy enough that I probably could have figured out the camera and taken decent pictures on my own—pictures like the touristy shot of Maus Castle at the head of this post. But decent wasn’t good enough, so I took a multi-week class.

One of the techniques I learned is called the Rule of Thirds. When composing (or cropping) a picture, you draw an imaginary tic-tac-toe board on the image and place the subject where two lines intersect. The picture above is nice, but the viewer’s eye is actually drawn more to the tower, which sits at one of those intersections, than to the castle as a whole.

By placing the subject at the upper right intersection, the castle becomes more noticeable as a unit. Even better, you see it in context at the top of a mountain.

Or do you? This next picture puts the subject at the upper left intersection and shows that it isn’t all the way up. Castles were actually placed high enough to look out over the Rhine River but low enough to take advantage of the rainwater running down the mountain.

I could also have put Maus Castle in one of the lower quadrants, which would have enhanced the feeling of isolation.

See how your creative choices—and the different messages you can convey—have increased by using the Rule of Thirds?

As with most creative techniques, the Rule of Thirds isn’t a law that must always be followed. Maybe the background is ugly or the subject is so beautiful that it deserves the entire frame. Or maybe following the rule is simply impractical because you can’t get far enough away from your subject to include the context—a common problem when photographing cathedrals in crowded European cities. But knowing the technique opens up your creative choices.

Here’s another example. Sports photographers often use a very fast shutter speed to freeze the action. That’s what happened in this picture I took at a volleyball game.

But what if I wanted to create the feeling of movement or isolate one player by blurring out the background? A much slower shutter speed can create this effect.

Good technique can turn an ordinary photograph into art.

Creative writing is also art. You will never write a book that the whole world wants to read. Not even the Bible can claim that distinction. But even though you won’t satisfy everyone, you can increase your audience by learning—and then using—good technique.

How does a writer learn it? I attend at least two conferences a year and own a number of books about the craft of writing. I also use a third—and much cheaper—classroom. I belong to a good writers’ group with people who know technique and are willing to point out where my work lacks it.

Now it’s your turn to increase your audience by improving your technique.

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