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Picturing a World

Views from above

Although I live in a country town where some friends and I will decorate the town library this week with greens cut from our own properties, there’s a part of me that still associates Christmas shopping with big cities: Atlanta, where I grew up; Boston; Paris, where I spent an enchanted holiday with an aunt and cousins. It’s the Paris connection that popped into my mind when I ran across Caillebotte’s Boulevard again today. Read More 

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17th Century watercolors

Blog tip: Although Erik Kwakkel's fascinating post on a 17th C artist’s manual on mixing watercolors is four years old, its link to a Colossal blog post with additional images is still live. The original manuscript is Aix-en-Provence, Bibliothèque municipale/Bibliothèque Méjanes, MS 1389 (1228) Read More 

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Murder, She Wrote

Blog tip: If you are thinking about writing a murder mystery set in medieval London, check out Cambridge University’s medieval murder map. It not only locates 142 fourteenth-century homicides but also supplies documentation for each and provides some useful short essays. Via The History BlogRead More 

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Wintry inspiration

In her introduction to the 2016 edition of The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin says, “The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.”

Imagery, like music, can induce feelings as well as ideas; it conveys complex attitudes, multiple meanings. Through her painting, Nom kinnear king expresses what she explores in the only way she fully can. Trying to put it into words would be pointless.

And yet, for those of us who are inspired by art while we are writing fiction, a picture may suggest a plot line. It may offer a concrete detail for a scene. Or it may just as well go into the unconscious and work magic. Gretta, I think, is going to haunt me into winter. Read More 

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Thanksgiving 2018

Things you love sometimes lead you to personal connections that no one else might ever make but which nourish your soul. This year I have been exploring the art of Samuel Palmer. Every November I read Greer Gilman’s Moonwise. In September, up popped this engraving by Andrew Davidson, which reminded me of both. It also suggested its own mysteries independent even of the Riggs story it illustrates.

Great stimulants to the imagination are gifts to be thankful for, especially in dark times. Read More 

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Beatrice Baxter Ruyl

I love illustrated books, which in today’s world largely means children’s books. This combination of text and illustration from 1909 is by Beatrice Baxter Ruyl (who posed for photographer Gertrude Käsebier’s picture The Sketch). The children’s book pulp-fiction syndicate for  Read More 

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Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare

A tip from James Gurney on the release of high-resolution images by the Chicago Art Institute led me back to this 1877 painting by Monet. It was in my mind when I wrote Jeanette and Effie’s arrival in  Read More 

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Norah Smyth, photographer

Blog tip: Votes for women on both sides of the pond! A post on the English photographer, Norah Smyth, fits well on an American election day when women need to get out and exercise the right our foremothers won for us. And Smyth’s pictures of East Enders instead of the rich and famous should inspire us all to remember that ordinary people matter and can change the world for the better. Read More 

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Hearts, arts (and votes)

“It’s hard to change people’s minds with information and rational arguments. I think what really changes people are experiences,” says Ben Fountain in an interview about his new book, Beautiful Country Burn Again. This struck me specially because recently, when I gave a reading, a local man who is fond of bragging to me that he never reads fiction came up and said, “I read the Narnia books when I was a child, but now I read for information. Do you read fiction?” I said, "Yes." I half wish I had thought to say, “Eustace Clarence Scrubb must have been your favorite character,” but what I really wish I could have thought to say was, "Yes, because vicarious experience informs the heart."

Fiction matters, poetry and music matter, drama and dance matter, representational painting and abstract sculpture matter—all the arts matter because the world is a better place the more we expand our hearts and minds.  Read More 
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Hallowe’en cats

Blog tips: Vintage Halloween postcards at the Toronto Public Library is an archived post with lots of images of Halloween cards from ca. 1910 and links to the library’s collections. Usually I’d choose a witch to offer as a treat for Hallowe’en, but there’s something weirdly imaginative about these menacing Jack-o-lanterns and their panicked cats that tickles my fancy this (and there is a witch in the upper right-hand corner). A different card at the American Antiquarian Society, moreover, makes clear that the gauzy bows could be perceived as witches’ bodies. For it and another set of vintage Hallowe’en cards, click here.

And whether you trick or treat or celebrate Samhain as the pagan new year, have a happy, safe Hallowe’en—with just a touch of the spooky or wild! Read More 

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