Archive for February, 2011

Writing and Art

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 4, 2011 by Laura Paull

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Next week I will fly to Austin for the annual gathering of the mosaic-making tribes, the SAMA conference. I was asked by the administrators of the college where I teach to help them explain the need for a teacher of writing and journalism to take such a trip. this is what I wrote:

“I advise my students, ‘In order to contribute anything of value to the stream of mass media, you must know or learn things that other people do not (yet) know; and in order to write art reviews or theater or film criticism, you must know a great deal about art’.”
As a writer and a teacher of writing, I have always been eclectic. I tell my students that they must strive to live a rich and varied life, on any income; that they will pluck their words and metaphors from the treasures of their experience. Discussing the agony of the blank page and the mystery of the very first sentence, I show them an article I published about the Farmers Market in San Francisco’s Civic Center, and how the lead paragraph emerged from a stew of visual memories I’d formed wandering among Swiss peasants in Fribourg, decades prior. As a teacher of humanities (film) and mass media as well, I immerse myself continually in the visual and performing arts. These activities contribute to my understanding of the world and the richness of my lectures.
Over the past decade I have also developed as an artist in an art medium known as “mosaic.” I have produced large format murals and smaller pieces, including a mosaic violin. For me, the art of mosaics parallels the writing process, although mosaic making is altogether more physical in nature. From the nascent desire to express something – a message, if you will — to the conceptualization of a vehicle for that ‘message,’ both arts drive towards a piece of work that can convey thought, feeling and even information. In both processes there is the assembly of materials, the ordering of elements, the unforeseen spark of creativity, the intensive labor of technique. In my own experience, the process of creating mosaics and that of writing inform and enrich one another,and i have started a company (Quake Mosaics) and a blog in which I write about the process of their creation. I share this blog with students in order for them to see how a writer can use their interests to develop subjects worth writing about, and to understand visually the elements of story-telling.
In recent years, the art of the mosaic has boomed internationally, as both trained and self-taught artists have explored and experimented with traditional techniques, remaking an ancient art for the 21st century. And some of the work is breaking new ground as a form of expression uniquely capable of expressing messages about today’s fractured world. For this reason I propose to attend this year’s conference of the Society of American Mosaic Art (SAMA) comprising five solid days of cutting edge presentations and workshops; exhibits and discussions. For the most part, I am attending in order to enter more deeply into the global discussion about this unfolding medium, not so much as an aesthetic but in its capacity as a conveyor of complex human messages. One keynote event will be the American premiere of a documentary film “Fold, Crumple, Crush” about the work of the Nigerian artist el-Anatsui, who transforms discarded foil bottle tops and rescued copper wire into vast, shimmering wall hangings. The film and lecture discuss questions about the source of inspiration, how an artist finds and sustains an original voice, how art finds context in the environment of its creation, and the nature of art itself. Another presentation features maverick Australian artist Pamela Irving, for whom mosaics are about story telling, examining the narrative tradition in mosaic from the ancient practitioners of the art, to her own innovative practice. Yet another workshop will examine the social and educational impact of community-built mosaics in projects from Haiti to Oakland CA. …”

I’ll be blogging in the evenings from the retrofitted silver Airstream trailer accommodations that I have rented for three nights. I am as sure of my purpose as I have ever been. I hope the college administrators agree.