Three Things Writers Can Learn from Visual Art

The Nan Desu Kan art show is always a lot of fun work, and it has come and gone once more. In addition to the wall art I bought (I can support other artists! Thank you, readers.), here are a few writer takeaways from the show:

Expand your definition of art.

Although paintings and drawings are the most common art forms at the show, this year fabulous artists also brought us a spooky hand-bound book, cross-stitches, masks, jewelry, and even a bronze bust of an artist’s face with elf ears! This should remind writers that our stories don’t have to look, read, or otherwise resemble other people’s stories. Our stories need not handle edifying topics or meet strangers’ subjective purity criteria.

It’s art. You’re an artist and writer, even if all you’ve written is a drabble published in the Hugo-award-winning Archive of Our Own. We can’t let convention hold us back from telling our stories the way we want to tell them. Unless, of course, we really need the money, because capitalism.

Your creation can make people happy without being technically perfect or on theme.

One of the pieces on display at the art show this year was a detailed color drawing of Raven from Teen Titans. That’s not anime or a Japanese video game (which was this year’s con theme), although it’s anime-adjacent. The pose and facial expression were wonderful, and the technique was a little flat and amateur, especially compared to some art displayed nearby.

When Teen Titans fans walked by, every one of them stopped to oo and ahh over Raven “living her best life.” They were so happy to see her. The technically superior work next to that piece didn’t move them at all.

This serves as a writerly reminder to follow your instincts. Make something you love, and someone else will love it too. You’ll make more people happy if you edit it and bring it closer to your vision, but the story doesn’t have to be structurally immaculate. It doesn’t have to fit a trend. It just needs to say something you mean, no more, no less.

Many factors affecting sales and awards are outside your control.

Art and writing don’t need to be competitive, but when an award is involved, someone wins, others don’t. This year, the piece that won Best in Show got exceptional promotion from the staff, because it was unique art that evoked immense curiosity and emotional reaction. Nobody else who entered art into the show this year would’ve known that that piece of art would be present, and if they did, they couldn’t (well, shouldn’t) have done anything about it.

That artist didn’t make the award-winning piece to win. They made it because they enjoyed making it. In fact, as soon as the awards were given out, the Best in Show artist removed the price from the piece. Because they marked the winning piece as “not for sale,” any money that would’ve been spent on it could be spent on other art instead. The other artists in the show couldn’t do anything about that, either!

Another potential factor affecting art sales this year was that the convention had to take place a week before it usually did. Maybe we had a slightly different crowd. Maybe people attending this year were saving money to spend on Dragon Con in Atlanta, since attending both cons was possible for a change. Maybe people who would’ve usually been out of money after a long weekend had extra spending money. The artists in the art show couldn’t change the con date. All they could do – all any of us can do – was make the coolest stuff they could and put it out in the world for other people to enjoy.

In related news, the cover of Gravity of a Distant Sun has been revealed on the B&N Sci-Fi Fantasy Blog, and it is glorious! Also, I’m looking forward to attending Sirens in October. If you see a fat redhead with my name on her nametag, feel free to say hi!

Further Reading

R. E. Stearns