Writing Inspired by Art: a picture tells a thousand ideas

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Art that tells a story

My iPhone’s wallpaper is a photograph by Gregory Crewdson. There’s nothing busy or pretentious about it, and to be brutally honest, nothing very interesting happening at first glance. And that’s the point. You have to insert your own ideas about what you’re seeing to understand what the artist is saying.

It’s early morning, just on daybreak. A woman is sitting casually on a sidewalk outside a pub (you see a rusted sign, the Madison), she’s wearing a tank-top and jeans, her legs are on the road, and with my limited view I can’t tell if she’s wearing shoes or not. Behind her a screen door is open and a faint entrance light cuts through the foggy morning. She is looking casually over her shoulder to the left at the glow of a car’s tail lights disappearing up a hill of some small working-class town. The roads are wet and you get the sense the fog is just about to lift.

You are a hidden witness to the intimacy of a life. It’s these photos I tend to like best.

It could be a poster for an independent movie, or a painting (Edward Hopper is one of Crewdson’s inspirations and you see it in his work. Also, coincidently, I have ‘Nighthawks’ as my computer’s wallpaper). You can’t help extrapolate a story: regret, big night drinking, emerging into the reality of lonely life that is as vacant as the scene. And who’s in the car? An ex? a client? (there is a red light in a small window of the Madison that invites you to make a decision), maybe no one.

What I like about his work is the time and effort Crewson takes with every shot. Every detail is scrutinised over to capture the exact feeling in the moment–this isn’t photoshopped (her hair and makeup has been worked even though you see very little of her details). For this shoot he closed down the street, had the local fire brigade hose it down and brought in a crane for the lights. A stop sign was removed and the fog was created by a machine carried on the back of a truck that had just passed.

Multiple lights were used to bring out the features he wants you to notice. The sign for example, a light on in a nearby house. Small details that compound to produce an impression. So when you have the time to really look at it, you think what the story is. You project from your own experience and immerse yourself and become in some small way the person. It draws you in and holds your attention. You become the driver and it becomes your unique experience. A thousand ideas from a simple one.


Also published on Medium.

  • Great art always has some sort of narrative, either you create it, or the artist leads you to this story.