Did you know that today, April 15th, is World Art Day? I am writing this post to celebrate this special day. Art can be present in our daily lives in different forms: in what we look at, how we dress, in the decorative objects that might be part of our house. Art is also straightly related and associated with literature as well. In some case, both go hand in hand. You might remember that literature motif, scenes and characters have been represented in numerous artworks from ancient times. For example, the Archaic Greek pottery features scenes from The Odyssey, The Illiad, and The Oresteia, to name some.
But writers have found in art a valuable and rich source of inspiration for creating their works. In some cases, art plays a relevant role through the plots of many novels and short stories. Characters might create artworks, might be involved in the world of art. Can you think of a literary work where art has a fundamental role?
In this post, we will find out how art can be relevant in literature. We are going to review one short story and four novels. You might already know some of the featured stories, but others might seem very impressive ad original. The selected narratives will provide us with some relevant questions that might help us to understand art history.
Additionally, I am inviting you to check out some artworks that might have inspired the mentioned literary works. Delight yourself today by contemplating with some art.
A Short Story
Short stories might be short in length, but the emotions and feeling that they might produce are more intense than those produced by longer works. Reading a short story like the one I am suggesting below is an excellent option for understanding the relationship between art and literature.
“𝐋𝐞𝐚𝐟 𝐛𝐲 𝐍𝐢𝐠𝐠𝐥𝐞” 𝐰𝐫𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐛𝐲 𝐉. 𝐑. 𝐑. 𝐓𝐨𝐥𝐤𝐢𝐞𝐧
Professor J. R. R. Tolkien might be better known for his works regarding Middle Earth, as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. But he also created incredible short stories that have nothing to do with his legendarium. One of these is “Leaf by Niggle”.
Niggle is a painter. He is very attentive when painting nature as he is obsessed with making a painting of a tree his finest work of art. To do so, he spends numerous effort and time reproducing a single leaf to reach perfection. Numerous ordinary life situations interrupt Niggel’s life, which gives the readers the sense that the artist might never be able to finish his most precious artwork. I will not spoil your reading by telling you everything that happens in the story. I truly encourage you to read it!
Now, Tolkien’s story, “Leaf by Niggel”, is the only story written by the author that might be understood in an allegorical sense. “Leaf by Niggle” far from being just a story of a man trying to reach perfection in one of his artworks, brings numerous questions rewarding the world of art. Questions as: It is truly possible to imitate nature through painting? What are the point and use of making art? Can an artwork be fully completed? If you need to read a story to understand those questions, Tolkien’s short story certainly might be able to answer them.
Here, I am sharing a quotation to inspire your reading:
“𝐸𝑣𝑒𝑛 𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑁𝑖𝑔𝑔𝑙𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝘩𝑖𝑠 𝑜𝑙𝑑 𝘩𝑜𝑚𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑔𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑝𝑠𝑒 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑀𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑠 𝑓𝑎𝑟 𝑎𝑤𝑎𝑦, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑦 𝑔𝑜𝑡 𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑜 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝘩𝑖𝑠 𝑝𝑖𝑐𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒; 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑤𝘩𝑎𝑡 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑦 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑦 𝑙𝑖𝑘𝑒, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝘩𝑎𝑡 𝑙𝑖𝑒𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑦𝑜𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑚, 𝑜𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑡𝘩𝑜𝑠𝑒 𝑐𝑎𝑛 𝑠𝑎𝑦 𝑤𝘩𝑜 𝘩𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑐𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑚”.
- J. R. R. Tolkien. “Leaf by Niggle”.
❈ If you would love to reflect on the above-mentioned questions, “Leaf by Niggle” is an amazing short story for celebrating World Art Day. Complement your reading by exploring the role of nature in Medieval Ages Art, as leaves and flowers were frequently used. Or, you can also explore some Colonial Art, the result of Catholic art and Indigenous People of South America. This art is characterized by representing an important amount of plants and flowers.
Some novels might have many themes, and art might play a significant role or a minor role but not less special and important. Let’s explore four novels where art is relevant.
I. 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑪𝒉𝒓𝒐𝒏𝒊𝒄𝒍𝒆𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝑵𝒂𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒂: 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑽𝒐𝒚𝒂𝒈𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑫𝒂𝒘𝒏 𝑻𝒓𝒂𝒅𝒆𝒓 𝐛𝐲 𝐂. 𝐒. 𝐋𝐞𝐰𝐢𝐬
Did you expect to find one of the books from The Chronicles of Narnia? The reason is that it is said that literature transports us to other worlds, so does art. Just think about Rothko‘s huge painting with colors and his insistence that they were for contemplation and meditation as if you were surrounded by the colors. Or think about rock art that seems to be part of the landscapes, changing them, giving us the possibility to find ourselves in another world. In The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace are literarily transported into Narnia by a painting!
In this sense, Lewis deals with two ways of experience transportation into another world. The first one, which is more evident, is literature, and the second is art. Like the children, the reader goes to Narnia, while the children go physically inside the story, the reader transport within the story by reading it. In The Voyage of the Dawn Trader, the children observe the painting as any visitor would observe an artwork in a museum:
“𝐷𝑜 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑙𝑖𝑘𝑒 𝑡𝘩𝑎𝑡 𝑝𝑖𝑐𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒?” 𝘩𝑒 𝑎𝑠𝑘𝑒𝑑
“𝐹𝑜𝑟 𝘩𝑒𝑎𝑣𝑒𝑛’𝑠 𝑠𝑎𝑘𝑒 𝑑𝑜𝑛’𝑡 𝑙𝑒𝑡 𝘩𝑖𝑚 𝑔𝑒𝑡 𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑢𝑡 𝐴𝑟𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑡𝘩𝑎𝑡”, 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑 𝐸𝑑𝑚𝑢𝑛𝑑 𝘩𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑑𝑙𝑦, 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝐿𝑢𝑐𝑦, 𝑤𝘩𝑜 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑡𝘩𝑓𝑢𝑙, 𝘩𝑎𝑑 𝑎𝑙𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑦 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑: “𝑌𝑒𝑠, 𝐼 𝑑𝑜. 𝐼 𝑙𝑖𝑘𝑒 𝑖𝑡 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑚𝑢𝑐𝘩”.
“𝐼𝑡’𝑠 𝑎 𝑟𝑜𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑛 𝑝𝑖𝑐𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒” 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑 𝐸𝑢𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑐𝑒.
“𝑌𝑜𝑢 𝑤𝑜𝑛’𝑡 𝑠𝑒𝑒 𝑖𝑡 𝑖𝑓 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑝 𝑜𝑢𝑡𝑠𝑖𝑑𝑒” 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑 𝐸𝑑𝑚𝑢𝑛𝑑.
“𝑊𝘩𝑦 𝑑𝑜 𝑦𝑜𝑢 𝑙𝑖𝑘𝑒 𝑖𝑡?” 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑 𝐸𝑢𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑐𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝐿𝑢𝑐𝑦.
“𝑊𝑒𝑙𝑙, 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑡𝘩𝑖𝑛𝑔” 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑 𝐿𝑢𝑐𝑦, “𝐼 𝑙𝑖𝑘𝑒 𝑖𝑡 𝑏𝑒𝑐𝑎𝑢𝑠𝑒 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑠𝘩𝑖𝑝 𝑙𝑜𝑜𝑘𝑠 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 𝑖𝑡 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑦 𝑚𝑜𝑣𝑖𝑛𝑔. 𝐴𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑙𝑜𝑜𝑘𝑠 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 𝑜𝑡 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑦 𝑤𝑒𝑡. 𝐴𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑣𝑒𝑠 𝑙𝑜𝑜𝑘 𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑓 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑦 𝑤𝑒𝑟𝑒 𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑦 𝑔𝑜𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑢𝑝 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑑𝑜𝑤𝑛”.
- C. S. Lewis. “The Picture in the Bedroom”. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Lewis suggests us to reconsider whether literature and art can transport us to another place. In literature, readers have to imagine and picture what they are reading, whereas, in art an observant must accept the images that she is looking at and let them embrace her. In this sense, art and literature allow us to live similar experiences.
❈ If you would love to find out more artworks on ships that might transport you to Narnia, you can explore the National Gallery.
II. 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑷𝒊𝒄𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝑫𝒐𝒓𝒊𝒂𝒏 𝑮𝒓𝒂𝒚 𝐛𝐲 𝐎𝐬𝐜𝐚𝐫 𝐖𝐢𝐥𝐝𝐞
It was compulsory to mention a well – known novel that has been associated with art. Readers might remember the preface:
“𝘕𝘰 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘭 𝘴𝘺𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘦𝘴. 𝘈𝘯 𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘭 𝘴𝘺𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘺 𝘪𝘯 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘯 𝘶𝘯𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘰𝘯𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦 𝘮𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘮 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘵𝘺𝘭𝘦. 𝘕𝘰 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘮𝘰𝘳𝘣𝘪𝘥. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵 𝘤𝘢𝘯 𝘦𝘹𝘱𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘳𝘺𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 …𝘝𝘪𝘤𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘷𝘪𝘳𝘵𝘶𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘢𝘳𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘵 𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘭𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘯 𝘢𝘳𝘵…𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘢𝘵 𝘰𝘯𝘤𝘦 𝘴𝘶𝘳𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘴𝘺𝘮𝘣𝘰𝘭 … 𝘈𝘭𝘭 𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘪𝘴 𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘶𝘴𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴”.
- Oscar Wilde. “Preface”. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde deals with numerous themes. Themes as social conventions, morality, private and public life, love, sexuality, but art is also a fundamental topic in the narrative.
Wilde questions the morality of art and its role in society. He supports the aesthetical pleasure of an artwork rather than its function or rational explanation, this issue can be evidenced through the story. He insists that art has value for its own characteristics over what it can mean or symbolize. Wilde also supports the idea that art is straightly related with decorations, being their main aim to please the observer without any other function at all.
❈ Get inspired by Dorian Gray’s portrait and celebrate this years’ World Art Day by visiting virtually the National Portrait Gallery in London.
III. 𝑳𝒂𝒅𝒚 𝑨𝒖𝒅𝒍𝒆𝒚’𝒔 𝑺𝒆𝒄𝒓𝒆𝒕 𝐛𝐲 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐲 𝐄𝐥𝐢𝐳𝐚𝐛𝐞𝐭𝐡 𝐁𝐫𝐚𝐝𝐝𝐨𝐧
Lesser-known nowadays but highly popular in the Victorian Era, Mary Elizabeth Braddon in her novel Lady Audley’s Secret also discuss art, beauty and morality.
We already discussed this novel in a post called Mirror, Mirror: Show Us Lady Audley’s Horror. Braddon shows her reader the horrific reality of women as they are objects subjected to their physical beauty above their intellectual capacities. Readers might never forget the following quotation:
“𝐴𝑢𝑑𝑙𝑒𝑦 𝐶𝑜𝑢𝑟𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝘩𝑢𝑡 𝑢𝑝, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎 𝑔𝑟𝑖𝑚 𝑜𝑙𝑑 𝘩𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑒𝑘𝑒𝑒𝑝𝑒𝑟 𝑟𝑒𝑖𝑔𝑛𝑠 𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑎𝑚𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑤𝘩𝑖𝑐𝘩 𝑚𝑦 𝑙𝑎𝑦𝑑𝑦’𝑠 𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑙𝑎𝑢𝑔𝘩𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑛𝑐𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑑𝑒 𝑚𝑢𝑠𝑖𝑐𝑎𝑙. 𝐴 𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝘩𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑠 𝑏𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑃𝑟𝑒- 𝑅𝑎𝑝𝘩𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑡𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑡: 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑏𝑙𝑢𝑒 𝑚𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑤𝘩𝑖𝑐𝘩 𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑠 𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑔𝑎𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑢𝑝𝑜𝑛 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑊𝑜𝑢𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑃𝑜𝑢𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑠, 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝐶𝑢𝑦𝑝𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑇𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑒𝑡𝑡𝑜𝑠”.
- Mary Elizabeth Braddon. “At Peace”. Lady Audley’s Secret.
Braddon refers to well-known artists to give her readers an idea of how they should imagine the artworks she is describing. It is relevant to know some works by Wouverman, Poussin, Cuyp, and Tintoretto, to understand and experience the novel as a whole.
Lady Audley’s portrait might not seem relevant in the novel but is the object who starts the story and finishes it. Art is the start but also the end of the reflections that spin around Lady Audley’s Secret.
❈ Find out more about the Pre-Raphelite and celebrate the World Art Day 2021!
IV. 𝑯𝒂𝒓𝒓𝒚 𝑷𝒐𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝑺𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝐛𝐲 𝐉. 𝐊. 𝐑𝐨𝐰𝐥𝐢𝐧𝐠
You might have not expected to find Harry Potter Series either. In this series art has a magical role, art also exists in the Wizarding World, it is not something exclusively of the Muggles. But in Harry Potter’s world, painting can become alive as they move, the represented figures might be there in the landscape of a painting for a while but then disappear and move into another canvas:
“𝐻𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑡𝑜𝑜 𝑠𝑙𝑒𝑒𝑝𝑦 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑠𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝘩𝑎𝑡 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑝𝑒𝑜𝑝𝑙𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑡𝑠 𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑛𝑔 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑜𝑟𝑠 𝑤𝘩𝑖𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑝𝑜𝑖𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑠 𝑡𝘩𝑒𝑦 𝑝𝑎𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑑 … 𝐴𝑡 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑒𝑛𝑑 𝑜𝑓 𝑡𝘩𝑒 𝑐𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑜𝑟 𝘩𝑢𝑛𝑔 𝑎 𝑝𝑜𝑟𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑓𝑎𝑡 𝑤𝑜𝑚𝑎𝑛 𝑖𝑛 𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑘 𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑠𝑖𝑙𝑘.
‘𝑃𝑎𝑠𝑠𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑑?’ 𝑠𝘩𝑒 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑑”
- J. K. Rowling. “The Sorting Hat”. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
We might believe that this capacity of art to have life on its own might be only a capacity that is possible in the Wizarding World. But that is not really true. Some artists have given some magnific characteristics to their artworks that might give the sensation to the spectators that the figures on the canvas move or seem to disappear.
❈ To discover some magical aspects of art in real life, have a look at some incredible artworks. You might start with the famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, she might follow you with her eyes. Do not forget to have a look at The Ambassadors painted by Hans Holbein the Young, be careful with the Death! Now, if you want to discover something more contemporaneous, do not forget to check out Bill Viola’s Ocean Without a Shore, a video installation.
✶⋆Can you think of any other novel or short story where art is relevant? There are many other works where art has a fundamental role. I’m looking forwards to reading your thoughts here or on Instagram!