Thursday, 31 May 2007

Bigger Trees, No Sunsets

I think I'm safe to use this image: it's being posted across the globe.
David Hockney, one of the greatest living artists and probably best known for his pop art, notably his Splash paintings, has unveiled his new work: Bigger Trees Near Warter.
He constructed this work from fifty canvases and it is a continuation of his desire to move away from the photographic and towards the essence.
As we saw with Mondrian's trees, it's fascinating to observe how an artist begins to determine what is relevant and what is not, removing all trace of irrelevant clutter, leaving the essence as they perceive it.
Hemingway called this truth, and I would suggest that this search for the truth was by far the greater part of his literary journey.
From A Moveable Feast:
Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
Time and again, Hemingway advised his mice (newbie authors) to look and listen, to cut away all the crap and to search for the truth.

Reading through Jack M Bickham's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (just to see how many fundamental mistakes I'm still making), I was interested in chapter 6: Don't Descibe Sunsets (which might be/probably is [having internal conflict with this] the fundamental mistake I am still making).
Jack discusses delivery systems and makes the point that descriptions stop the reader dead. He introduces us to the frustrated poet. He discusses and reiterates the need for clarity and obviousness (similar to Hemingway's truth and repetition) and the importance of continually moving the story forwards - always moving forwards towards a clear goal.

It's not that I distrust Jack (and, indeed, chapter 31 is entitled: Don't Ignore Professional Advice); it's that, in breaking down his years of experience into succinct chunks, he has allowed little exceptions to leak across chapters.
Whilst he repeatedly, and quite rightly, insists that the author keep the story moving, he also discusses pacing elsewhere. To this end, his disclaimer reads something like: Descriptions are fine provided that they occur at a 'valley' - a point where the momentum needs to sit on a rock and take a breath and watch the sun going down.

To my mind, Hemingway describes things more beautifully than any other author. He finds the truth. He studies the minutest components of his scene or character, and he decants the thing that moved him - the purest form that made him react.
This truth links Bickham's advice to Hemingway's: Descriptions come at a cost; every single word in that description is high premium; every single word must be perfectly cast, designed to 'make' rather than 'describe'.

You can be sure that my thoughts on this are ongoing :o)


R1X said...

I thought the background was real! Anyhoo, do you think I should get Bickham and Hemingway's books?

solv said...

Bickham's book is better borrowed. Crikey, I'm becoming far too alliterate! Unless you're an absolute noob, it really only survives one read through. There were maybe two chapters I read through a number of times.
Ernest Hemingway On Writing is a collection of his thoughts on writing, and also his life as a writer. It's interesting and informative, but I doubt there is much in there that will transform your writing.
If you're simply after the kind of magic and inspiration that makes you wet your pants, just read A Farewell To Arms. However, for you my friend I'd recommend A Moveable Feast which is a quick read and a cosy insight and introduction to Hemingway's life and mind.

R1X said...

Hmm, A Farewell to Arms is sat by my head on the computer desk right now though...