In a recent CityArts interview, architect and artist Maya Lin described in some detail the elements of her creative process. When she begins a project, she spends from six months to a year researching – everything from the science and engineering involved, to the technology that can be employed to the history and cultural context. She spoke, for example, about studying wave theory and the topography of hills and rivers, solar resonance scans, aerial and satellite mapping, and, for her current memorial to the loss of species and natural elements (“What is Missing?”), environmental science, biology and chemistry. Before she embarks on a project, she is steeped in facts and knowledge and she has an intense desire to be accurate in what she creates. But after all that, she stresses her art and finding new ways of looking at the world around us. Her purpose, she says, is not documentary – it is art, a way of seeing and presenting that transcends what is known.
I thought it was a powerful metaphor for fiction writing. As writers, we need to fully understand all elements of our characters and story, we need to get the details right, we need to convey the time and place. We need to know psychology and history and sociology and philosophy and the names of plants and birds and stars in the heavens. We need to learn how a disease progresses and its prognosis, we need to know what made the potatoes go bad in the Irish famine, and that there were once drinking clubs in Bombay. We need to know that having tea with a man in his flat was likely to reflect badly on a lady, the habits of the careless rich and the physical and psychological barriers inherent in those checkpoints that restrict movement, whether it be from Mexico into California, or Hawara into Israel.
And then we need to let all the research, all we’ve learned, all we know, “settle” so that it can re-emerge as fresh and both intellectually and emotionally truthful. If we are engaged as artists – and not as journalists, historians, documentarians and all the other worthy and valuable disciplines – we need to show our readers a truth that goes beyond pictorial representation, that reveals what is unseen.
Causes Carol Piasente Supports
Doctors Without Borders
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
East Bay SPCA
San Francisco State University Foundation Inc. - San...