Thursday, March 15, 2018

Springs arts community embraces ekphrasis — the marriage of visual and literary arts

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 10:47 AM

click to enlarge A pair of pieces from Cottonwood Center for the Arts' current exhibit, Writing Is Art - FELICIA KELLY
  • Felicia Kelly
  • A pair of pieces from Cottonwood Center for the Arts' current exhibit, Writing Is Art

Writers find inspiration everywhere, but there’s a long history of finding inspiration in visual artwork in particular. John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s "On the Medusa of Leonardo Da Vinci in the Florentine Gallery" are two personal favorite examples of writers (in this case poets) creating something beautiful based on an entirely different kind of art.

This marriage of the visual and literary arts (called ekphrasis) is pretty damn cool. I’ve found through writing ekphrastic poetry and fiction myself that there’s very little difference between the muses that inspire art and those that inspire writing, and both forms of expression can enrich each other.

Given the literary and artistic talent to be found right here in the Springs, I’m especially thrilled to see the local artistic community embracing this marriage, and in unique and expanding ways.

At Cottonwood Center for the Arts right now (and through March 31), the exhibit Writing Is Art displays the work of local artists alongside stories and poems by members of Pikes Peak Writers. Through a contest held from October through December of 2017, writers were tasked with finding a piece of artwork at Cottonwood that inspired them, and writing a companion piece for it. Displayed side-by-side, the writing and art complement each other, and get people engaged in a unique way. When someone takes the time to read stories and poems alongside the art on the wall, they spend more time with the art, too. Similarly, an interesting painting might draw someone’s eye to a story they wouldn't have otherwise read.

Also locally, we’re desperately looking forward to The Sci-fi Show, which adds an exciting new layer to ekphrasis, and flips around the dynamic of the Cottonwood show. Organized jointly by Brett Andrus (S.P.Q.R. owner/painter) and Claire Swinford (Urban Engagement Manager at the Downtown Partnership, and a painter herself), The Sci-fi Show pulled together 10 area writers (including two of us here at the Indy) to write original sci-fi short stories, then paired them with visual artists, who will create retro-inspired images to accompany the pieces. Instead of stopping there, The Sci-fi Show adds an element of the performing arts as well, with local actors reading and recording the stories before the opening. This allows audiences three ways to access a story, encouraging collaboration across all kinds of platforms.

Though, of course, ekphrastic work isn’t a new phenomenon, even locally. Art Aloud, an annual multi-venue collaborative show spearheaded by Academy Art and Frame Company, celebrates its 11th year in 2018, and will accept submissions of art inspired by writing through March 24. The artwork will be displayed alongside its accompanying poem or story, and the whole initiative will be celebrated with live readings and receptions throughout April. The works don’t have to be created together, though writers and artists are welcome to work in tandem. Spreading the love through venues across town (no specifics announced yet for 2018) allows more people the opportunity to enjoy the way writing and art can influence each other.

There’s value in this for both the visual and literary artist. A short story displayed alongside a painting may add another dimension to the work, encouraging a deeper emotional investment; whereas an art piece inspired by a poem can make concrete some of the emotions expressed in verse. It’s a treat when writers and artists take advantage of those infinite combinations and possibilities of collaboration.

Of course, the benefits extend to the audience. We all have our niches, our special interests within the arts. Though I’m excited about each of these events as a writer, I find it equally fun to come into them as a viewer — to see the way we all inspire each other, and to break down those barriers within the massive Venn diagram of the arts.

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