Thursday, July 27, 2017

Using Literary Genres in Thematic Writing about Art

This piece was done as part of a biographical study. The image is based on a detail found in a painting of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal the Marquise de Sevigne.

Another way to approach writing about your art is to address the themes you deal with. Frankly, this aspect is more difficult for me. This is where I have trouble setting limits.  

Scanning instagram I see that there are people who make art about social issues, family, humor, lampooning, and meta art making - making art about art. 

I’m going to borrow the genres of literature as a springboard for thinking about themes. Think about the genre and how it may apply to you. It may not apply to your body of work, but feel free to use it when writing descriptions for individual pieces. 


Adventure - this genre features people who, willingly or not, face extreme physical challenges that often are life or death deciding. Does your art inspire daring?

Fable - a tale which ends in a moral often involving talking animals. Does your art tell a story that is meant to impart a message? Is there a way in which you use the fable model in your artwork?

Fairy tale - Fairytales and folklore are close cousins. Fairytales are based in Europe, have royalty, a magical creature or thing, a problem and a magical solution. Many have a happy ending. Does this describe your art? Your take on life? What you want to portray to the world? 

Fantasy - The genre of fantasy covers anything from unicorns to talking bears. Imagine how this might apply to your work. Whimsical is a word that works well along with this genre. 

Folklore - This type of tale is one that is a traditional tale, passed down by word of mouth, and is commonly known among people. 

Historical fiction - deals with events of the past. It is storytelling that uses the framework of a particular historical period to inform the whole. Love vintage? Telling stories with vintage materials? Could this be your genre? 

Horror - Too scary for me, but perhaps you like being terrified and having your hair stand on end.  Does your work deal with the seedy, horrific or pathological? I hope not, but if so this might be your genre. Or you might just be creating political satire. 

Humor - Everything from joke books to hilarious memoir this genre sees the light side to events. Quirky, erudite, clever or restrained this genre brings a smile to your face. Does your artwork do that? Do you do satire? Play on words? See the funny side of things? Does the irony of a situation make you burst into giggles? This might be a genre for you. 

Mystery - this can be crime and grit or Agatha Christie, but it could also encompass the unsolved mysteries of the world or the things that seem out of our control. 

Poetry - uses rhyming, text structure, or other constructs to create an emotional response to the world. Does that sound familiar to you? 

Realistic fiction - This is the genre that could be things that have happened, but they haven’t. They were made up. I’ll bet a lot of us could use this genre to describe at least some of our work. 

Romance - need I say more?

Science fiction - this genre uses applies possible scientific theory to storytelling. This seems like a genre rife for collage artists, among others. 

Sports stories - Does your work revolve around sports? This might be for you. 

Tall Tale - These tales often start with a grain of truth, but the story takes on a life of it’s own. The fisherman who catches a 6 inch fish that turns into a 3 foot long devil of a fish with horns. Does your work stretch the boundaries of reality? This might be a hint for you. 


Biography/Autobiography/ Memoir - a recounting of the events of a person’s life experience. While most art can be said to be biographical to some extent, some falls clearly in the realm of memoir. Make use of the construct when talking about your art. 

Drama - all the world’s a stage. This genre is all about what to do on that stage. Standing front and center. Claim it.

Essay - is meant to put forth an opinion and sway the reader to adopt this point of view. Perhaps your artwork is a visual essay. 

What do you think? Can any of these genres help you frame your artwork? Can they inspire vocabulary to use when describing your work? 

If you feel that this is helpful and would like to see a post with lists of words typically associated with these genres leave a comment to let me know. 


  1. This is fascinating and a wonderful transposition of genres. You've given me loads to think about -- not the least of which is style crossover -- and how many do it successfully. You might find a writer who can pull out a fictional novel and then whip out a biography - but I doubt there are many. Once we find our style, can we jump back and forth? And that quote -- perfect. I've been painting a lot this summer and the self critic is the worst of them all.

    1. Jeanie, I'm so glad you found this thought provoking. As for authors, Isaac Asimov is credited with being the only writer to write (and publish) a book for each of the 10 major categories of the Dewey Decimal System.This is funny because he is most well known as being a writer of Science Fiction. His breath of writing is truly amazing. So, it can be done, but maybe not often.

      As for visual artists, can we jump between styles? I think so. I think there are plenty of examples of this. Is it easy? Maybe not. The question also remains whether it is advantageous to do so. There is art we make because we HAVE to and art we make because WE have to. The difference between what we need to do to move along and what we need to do to fill our souls. These are each major considerations in themselves.

      Glad you liked the quote, as well. Self critics need to be given vacations. Hope yours chooses a destination far away unreachable by phone.

  2. What a fun idea! I think, in that case, that my work is mainly fable without the animals, and autobiography - ie mainly a message, usually to myself. If it's of use to others, so much the better. Thank you for making me think about this aspect of my work.

    1. Tracy, what a great response? Fable without the animals. Yes, I think it fits. While your work is autobiographical, I would also say that it falls into a category that I didn't add - inspirational. Sometimes it can be interesting to see our work from a different context.

      While I'm at it, I want to congratulate you again on your exhibit. While I would love it see it in person, I'll have to satisfy myself with the view through the internet.

    2. Thanks, Lynda. I'm thinking I might lay it out in a blog post with the explanation of the journey as displayed in the exhibit.

    3. I would love that! It would be very interesting to view your exhibit through the lens of your written material. It would certainly be a different way of viewing the pieces. I think that adds another layer of dimension.


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