In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway talks about how the painter Cézanne influenced his writing. Hemingway took what he learned from the colors, the brushstrokes, and the focus of Cézanne’s paintings and applied it to his own early works.
I thought about choosing an artist to model my writing after. Then, I realized, I’ve already found my artistic mentor.
One day, when I was a college freshman, I discovered that there was an art sale being held on campus. I thought it would be nice to find something to hang in my otherwise stark dorm room. I thumbed through numerous prints of famous works — Starry Night by Van Gogh, The Ballet Class by Degas, Water Lilies by Monet, Le Rêve by Picasso — pretty, recognizable, but not quite resonating with me.
Then I found one that captivated me.
It was The Broken Bridge and the Dream by Salvador Dali.
Now, I wasn’t some fancy-pants art critic, in spite of having taken an art appreciation class that year. But I found this painting mesmerizing. I liked the interplay of darkness and light. I liked the ethereal nature of the characters as they danced, embraced, or rode a horse off the top of the bridge. In one respect, the painting felt boundless, unconstrained by the laws of nature or how things are “supposed” to be. In another respect, the painting was very intentional, conveying the scene exactly as Dali saw it in his mind.
I liked how the progression of characters continued beyond the broken bridge, not falling off to hit the hard surface of reality beneath. No, they continued to follow their dream regardless of whether or not they had the support of the bridge. There was a certain hopefulness to it that appealed to me.
I bought the print, framed it, and hung it in my room. Later, I took it home with me in between semesters. My father hated it. The ambiguous genitalia made him uncomfortable, and I did have six younger siblings at home. But he let me keep it, and he didn’t even throw it out while I was an LDS missionary in France for 18 months.
And now, I can see that I write like Dali. My stories are character-driven. I use darkness to emphasize the light. I try to shake off the expectations of society and Mormon culture when they interfere with the message I’m trying to convey. And I believe in hope, even when everything seems to be hopeless. I have to.
Do you have a favorite painting that inspires you? Who would your artistic mentor be?