#5onFri: Five Essential Steps to Write an Art World Novel
The popularity of novels with an art world theme continues across the decades, with new bestsellers like The Art Forger and The Goldfinch being released every year. For readers who enjoy learning about art and history while being engaged with a good story, the art world appeals as the perfect setting. What separates excellent narratives from those that fall short? Like any book set in a specialized setting, such as a medical setting or a police station, solid research of the environment, specialized vocabulary and the internal motivation of the characters is required. If you want to write an art world novel, I offer these essential elements from my experience of writing Attribution.
1. Passion for the Art World
Do you gobble up every novel set in the art world? Watch every film? Attend new exhibitions in your city? Perhaps you live on a sheep station in Australia and there is no art except what your children have created for the kitchen walls. (N.B. many famous artists aspired to have a child’s creative freedom). Fortunately, the internet makes art content widely available, and it’s possible to follow and ‘see’ entire exhibitions, hear lectures, view images across the centuries in the places where they were created. Television series and podcasts contribute analyses and tours by experts. Join websites of important museums even if you never visit that city. They will share wonderful content.
Looking at art will nurture a passion. Spend time with works that capture your heart and as a writer you will begin to understand the motives of characters obsessed by art and write credible scenes set in the art world.
2. Art Research
A passion for the subject will make research, critical to the authenticity of your story, seem like a fun hobby. Fans of books with art as the setting or main plot are well-versed in the topic and they will spot an error instantly. A well-known art novelist told me she once wrote about orange carrots that Middle Ages characters put in a stew. A reader contacted her with the news that carrots in the Middle Ages were purple, not orange. Who knew? Careful research will save you from being dismissed and readers will suspend their disbelief to take the narrative journey with you. Part of your job as a writer is to verify and verify again. While the internet is a good starting place, always double-check with authoritative sources, including making friends with art librarians, art historians, conservators, and other art professionals who can help you get the facts correct.
3. Build a Community of Art Professionals and Aficionados
As writers, we understand how important a writing community is to learn the craft. The same is true in the art community. People who appreciate and study art, whether as a profession or an avocation, love to join with their tribe to learn more. Many opportunities exist to become a member of a museum, join committees, take art history classes from a local college, online or at a local museum. Make friends with the faculty and other students and you will be swept into a world that shares your passion and will be available to you when you want to talk through a scene, solve a problem like taking art through customs or fact-check specifics to make your story accurate.
4. Look at Art, Follow Art Auctions, and Read the Art Press
Yes, more to explore and it all takes time. Remember the first point: develop a passion. The art press offers so many ideas for scenes in your novel or maybe even the entire plot might be ripped from the headlines. If you have the interest, you will be riveted to read the stories. A new forgery discovered. A stolen work recovered. A clever robbery of important works. Works discovered in grandma’s attic. Most great mysteries and even thrillers have their roots in true stories, and art world narratives are no exception.
5. ‘See’ With Words
A special challenge in writing fiction that involves art occurs when the writer attempts to describe a work of art. Words need to produce a visual image for the reader that is adequate to understand what he is seeing, but doesn’t overwhelm the story with detail. The best way to do this is to read others who do it well. Pull their words apart to uncover what works and what does not. I can suggest some novels for this To Be Read list if you message me at my website http://www.lindamooreauthor.com
Writing fiction set in the art world gives the writer a double ‘art’ premise: the art of literature, of quality craft, engaging stories and compelling characters combined with the art of visual imagery. For me, writing about the art world allows me to learn more, meet interesting people and spend endless hours doing what I love. My next novel, Five Days in Bogotá, has me deep into the world of Latin American artists, dealers, and nefarious types who launder money through selling art. Stay tuned.
Linda Moore is an author, traveler, and recovering gallery owner. She studied art history at the Prado while a student at Complutense University of Madrid and received degrees from the University of California and Stanford University. Her gallery featured contemporary Hispanic artists. She has published award-winning exhibition catalogs, and her writing has appeared in art journals and anthologies. Born in the Midwest, she resides with her husband in California. Attribution is her first novel and debuts on 10/11/22.
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