Incorporating Art into a Story
By Traci L. Slatton
I am a novelist who lives with an artist. My husband Sabin Howard is a classical figurative sculptor. He sculpts in clay and casts in bronze; he’s been doing that for thirty years. Like many men, he lives, eats, and breathes his work. It’s not unusual for him to rant about Rodin or rave about Carpeaux over the lamb chops at dinner. I always say that for men, their work is their god, and for women, it’s their relationships.
I also joke that some people take up cigarette smoking because their mate smokes, but I took up the Renaissance because Sabin is obsessed with that era. I have researched that time as self defense. I simply had to, in this relationship.
For me, then, art isn’t something out there that I go to a museum or gallery to see. It’s in my home, literally. Several of Sabin’s bronze and plaster nudes grace our apartment. It’s at our dinner table and in our bedtime conversations and it’s even in the texts Sabin sends home during the day. I.e., “The Doni Tondo, Michelangelo framed a doorway into the divine with Mary’s arm.” I actually get those kind of messages during the day. Obsessed, that’s the word for my husband. He’s got that work-fanatic Y chromosome.
So when I sit down to write a story, the whole stew of my life is part of what nourishes that story. And part of the meat of my life is this on-going dialogue about art that I have with a practicing artist.
It naturally and organically follows for me that characters in my novels will be artists. For example, Tessa in THE LOVE OF MY (OTHER) LIFE. She’s a landscape painter, not a figurative sculptor like my husband, but the principles apply. She cares about her craft, as women do, of course. She’s desperate to be successful and she’s passionate about the highest and the best that art can be. She’s fully invested in her art and in being an artist.
Tessa, as a character, is interwoven with her art, because that’s her
profession—at least, she hopes it will be. And she’s consumed by her relationships, because women so often are. Her ex-husband left her, her marriage failed, and that combination has left her unable to paint. She’s blocked.
But Tessa knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like when it comes to contemporary art, because that’s her milieu. She’s had the training and the apprenticeship and the experience to evolve toward mastery of her craft; her background gives her a meaningful voice. So art is incorporated in this novel through the protagonist’s back story, preferences, work, and personality. It’s a vibrant, living part of the protagonist and story, just as it’s an active part of my daily life.
It’s also art that ties Tessa to her other, alternate selves, the ones whom she did not become through choices in this life. In particular, it ties Tessa to one particular, parallel-world Tessa beloved by Brian the kooky physicist. Brian comes to our world looking for his Tessa, who’s a cellist in his universe. Her passion for artistic expression found its outlet that way, there. He finds here a landscape painter even kookier than he is, in her way. Then they both have to learn what that art means to who they can become….