Emma Hartley on How an Artist Writes #LettersFromtheAuthors
Humans have been creating art for over forty thousand years. The desire to create, the compulsion to leave our mark on the world around us, the drive to express ourselves — these urges define our humanity. Add love as a catalyst for creation, and you have hit upon the core of every art movement in history. For me, the visual arts and the written word have always gone hand in hand. I see in words, I write in color, and so entwined are these loves that I find my storylines naturally gravitate to novels about artists.
THE NATURE OF ENTANGLED HEARTS, my first published work, centers on the life of a ceramic artist named Elwyn. Having Elwyn’s creative drive mirror my own was a wonderful way for me to mesh my thoughts and experiences in the visual arts with my character’s essential drive. While Elwyn uses her art to try to figure out her place in the world around her and to make sense of her feelings, so too have I tried to work through life’s ups and downs through artistic expression. These days, however, I derive as much satisfaction from writing characters who make art as I do from making art myself. In fact, it can sometimes be much less frustrating to problem solve through words than through physical media.
Take for example assemblage sculpture. There is a fine line between using recognizable media in a trite way and using it in a poignant way. A photograph, a game piece, a stamp — these objects already have meaning of their own. How then can an artist take these materials and use them to make meaningful sculpture that doesn’t look clumsy or derivative? Below are my own attempts to create meaning out of mundane objects — judge for yourself. Do they speak to you? Are they interesting or compelling? Do they create a story that begs to be understood? Or are they trite and overworked? I ask these questions of myself as a visual artist with every single piece I make. I never seemed to have the complete confidence required to assert that yes, these pieces are high quality examples of found object assemblage. Yet, describing these pieces and the motivation driving the artist to create them using the written word, allows me to build visual pictures in the minds of my readers who can then create their own images, guided by my imaginings. Readers can take ownership of whatever art their mind then creates.
I am reminded of a description in White Oleander by Janet Fitch, of art created by her protagonist Astrid — suitcases were her vehicles for assemblage. Her descriptions of the artwork have stayed with me. Fitch, writing on Quora.com, explains, “I like art in matchboxes, like the ‘50s journal Semina, art in suitcases, in dressers and trunks, anything that opens up to show that secret world inside. Why? Because they’re just like books, or people themselves. They’re all tucked away, and then you get to know them and they open up, and there are treasures inside.” I couldn’t agree more.
The secret world inside a book corresponds to the secret world inside the author’s mind, and if that author is also an artist then great imagery can be expected. The reader then becomes a part of the creation process of each piece of visualized artwork. Just as Janet Fitch’s description may have inspired an entire generation of artists unfamiliar with assemblage pioneers such as Joseph Cornell, so I hope to inspire my readers to create artworks of their own, even if those works reside in the readers’ imaginations. Everyone will imagine my descriptions of a character’s artwork differently, thus creating brand new works of art in the readers’ minds. It is my honor, then, to facilitate those sparks of new inspiration or creation whenever I can.
The Nature of Entangled Hearts
“The Nature of Entangled Hearts” is a fast-paced, edgy, romantic thriller, with a subtly supernatural twist. Enter the story of Elwyn and James, two strangers entangled by their past-life experiences, who are mired in an unquantifiable present. Throughout the novel they work to understand the bonds that hold them together, just as an unforeseen danger threatens to tear them apart.
Elwyn “Derrin” Derringer is a ceramic artist and a professor at the local college of art in Portland, Maine. She has always felt insecure and disconnected, unsure of how or why she fits into the world, seeking through her art to fill in the missing pieces of herself. When Elwyn’s eyes lock on those of a stranger across the market, everything she has taken for granted as reality is thrown into question. Understanding blooms in fits and starts, interrupted by her fears of attachment and eventually by the unwanted attentions of an obsessed and disturbed art student.
Throughout the novel, Elwyn discovers reservoirs of strength and independence as she faces these challenges, endearing the reader with her feisty nature and her fierce desires to create authentically, to love intensely and to transcend the destructive links to her past. “The Nature of Entangled Hearts” takes us on a thrilling ride through past and present, through love and dread, through loss and reclamation, leaving us thankful that we don’t understand all the mysteries of the universe just yet, and reminding us never to take our lives - or our loves - for granted.
Emma Hartley is an author and artist living in picturesque Maine. She has been writing and making art since childhood and has been insatiably curious and industrious her whole life. Emma was a double major in English and Fine Arts and she received her Masters in Art and Design Education. She is a specialist in ceramics and includes much of this expertise in her novel The Nature of Entangled Hearts. Her other interests include playing drums, making art and exploring every square inch of the Maine coastline. The Nature of Entangled Hearts is her first novel.