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Picturing a World

Michael Ancher’s breakers

I gave my fictional artist Charlie Post an obsession with painting oncoming waves because that really was a motif for more than one 19th C painter—witness this one by Skagen artist Michael Ancher, Anna Ancher’s husband. What interests me most is how unlike Charlie’s painting it is. The style is far more gestural than Charlie’s; and the whipped-up foam, if not exactly joyous, is exuberant. Even the angle of vision is off to one side, whereas Charlie’s pictures come at you, come at you, come at you. (That is, they would if they were real!)

In my recent thinking about embracing the world bodily, I have had to face wetness—it’s easy to experience, hard to get right in painting, and harder still to put into words that fully evoke the feeling of sweat, rain, a stream, waterfall spray, a lake, clouds, or waves. For writers, though, it’s worth thinking about when a character encounters moisture: Instead of just naming the condition, have I made the reader experience the sensation?

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