The Difference Between Artists and Writers (or Why Can’t I Dress Like That?!)

So last week I was in the kitchen at my job when one of the younger girls came in and the first thing I saw were her white knit legwarmers.

There are many, many people who should not wear legwarmers. I am one of those people. Put them on me, and it will make my legs look even more like oversmoked hams. This girl was not one of them. They looked good on her. Really, really good. She looked hip and chic and so cool that I was completely distracted from her skirt, which she had made herself out of a Halloween sweater that had a white picket fence on it. She simply cut out the Halloween parts, kept the fence, sewed it into a skirt, and voila.

As I stood there, mind exploding, one of my co-workers came up to me and said. “Nope. Don’t even try it. It won’t look good on you. She’s an artist.

Ooooo! Ouch! Right in the gut!

It just so happened that the Sunday before, I had a chance to go to the Madison ‘Open Studio’ tour. This is basically where all the artists in the town and the surrounding areas open up their studios and homes for the public to come in and see their work and the rooms where they were created. I only had a chance to visit a couple of homes–I only learned about the tour the week before, and the only time I had available was a couple of hours on Sunday. But it was fascinating, going into different homes to see artwork and photographs and textiles–the last was very interesting; the artist showed us her a loom upstairs that she used to weave thick rugs. It was big, all wood and strings and ball bearings, like a cross between a piano, an wooden armoire and one of those photo kiosks you see at the mall (forgive the metaphor, but I’ve been working on She’s All Light all week. My metaphor conjuring is tapping on empty at the moment). I wish I had more time to spend there. Weaving on looms looks to be a very interesting craft.

Anyway, I’m going to all these artists homes and I’m thinking to myself, writers can be considered artists too. Why can’t we have an open studio to show off?

But we all know the answer to that. Writers are artists, in the degree that we create art. The thing is with artists, their medium is all visual. You go into a room and see, with your eyes, a piece of artwork on the wall, you instantly recognize it as art (unless it’s one of those paintings that’s all black, or a statue done by Takashi Murakami. In which you’ll go, “Huuuuuuuuuuuuh?”) For writers, the art we create is mental. We whip up tapestries that can only be seen with the mind’s eye.

So while most artists can have a sketch pad with them, they still need a space of their own in order to make their art happen. Writers don’t need that. Our creating space is in our heads, and it can be as large as the universe or as small as a molecule. It doesn’t have to be concrete. Ideas are our paints, imagination the brush, and entire worlds are the canvasses, stretched out to infinity.

It still sucks, though because really, who’d want to go in and see a writer’s studio? In my case, that’s currently the kitchen table. Granted, I have an awesome view outside our apartment, but I doubt anyone is going to come in to peruse the half written scraps of stories I got on my laptop. Probably the closest I could get to displaying my work on a wall would be poetry–and why would I do that when I could just as easily send it to people in an email?

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against artists. I had genuine fun doing the tour, and I loved going in to see their creative thought processes on display. It’s just that people assume that, being artists, they can dress and act however they want. Them being artists gives them the license to act as eccentric or farm from the beaten path as they can. Oh, they’re artists. They got creativity up the ying-yang; therefore, they can do whatever they want.

Writers, on the other hand, are watchers. We dress normal. Since we watch the world for material, we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We make ourselves as unobtrusive as possible. We blend.

Except in the case where we’re doing a reading on our work. Then hey, we can dress however we want. Because we’re reading our art.

I’m looking forward to that day. True, I won’t show up in legwarmers and a sweater skirt, but hey, I’ll find some way to be styling. It’s artistic!

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6 Responses

  1. Wow! What a wonderful page about a deeply thoughtful topic. I being an artist and also somewhat of a writer, understand perfectly well what you mean. Although, I must say that ma few artists like to blend into the world (to a degree) as well, and watch the people. Pablo Picasso, for instance, loved to watch people; he would randomly approach someone of interest on the street and ask to draw them. (Hence his paintings of Dora Maar.) Andy Warhol was an observer as well; however there was something fascinating about him that caused him to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps it was his wide array of wigs, or his whispy, dream-like voice that caused the most interesting variety of people to be drawn to him.
    I thank you for this wonderful, thought-provoking writing and hope to read more from you in the future.

    Kay

  2. Lady, you ARE an artist–you paint with words. Your gift of metaphor creates panoramas in the mind, and evokes emotion every bit as much as the painter or musician. “Tapestries that can only be seen with the mind’s eye” “ideas are our paints, imagination our brush, and the entire world our canvasses, stretching to infinity.” Wow! I may not be able to hang that on the wall, but I can dive into your words and roll them around my tongue and play them on my mental screen any time I want!

  3. In college I had an artist friend, she bought her clothes at thrift shops and furnished her house with things she bought at auctions or salvaged from dumpsters. She was ethereal and looked like she belonged in SoHo not Iowa.

    I write. My style is probably more yoga mom than bohemian. I think writers are outward conformists, keeping the inner radical tucked away.

    Wear the legs warmers.

  4. Thanks, Kay! Glad to see that artists and writers aren’t as different as I thought.

    Anniegirl, if it wasn’t for the fact that I think legwarmers look tacky, I would wear them. What blew my mind was that my co-worker could wear them and look good in them. But yeah, I have a secret desire to be more bohemian. Maybe I’ll start letting the inner bohemian in me out more…as soon as I figure out what that bohemian looks like.

    And Mom…thanks!

  5. […] whether I write or do photography or sit around idle, just in case you’re wondering). The Difference Between Artists and Writers (Or Why Can’t I Dress Like That?!) ▶ No Responses /* 0) { jQuery('#comments').show('', change_location()); […]

  6. […] Artists that paint and artists that write are entirely different and I believe that is the root cause of criticism for writers that call themselves artists. Traditionally, an artist was assumed to have something visual to present to viewers. Artists that sculpt and paint present visual works of art that are tangible. Writers create works of art that became masterpieces of the mind. To be able to enjoy the art of a writer must require work as in opening a book and taking the time to read the words the artist has laid out perfectly for you. This doesn’t make either better. The “Café In the Woods” has an excellent post regarding all the differences in visual art and novel art which can be read here. […]

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