A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

by Ernest Hemingway

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A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Oct 16, 2008 7:53 am

pg. 13 – “I was learning from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone.”

How does a writer learn from a painter? What does this say about the "one true sentence" quote from Question #3?
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Parlez » Thu Oct 16, 2008 10:10 am

I think both Cezanne and Hemingway were Reductionists. They were both trying to reduce the frivolous and get to something more essential; something more basic in terms of structure. Whether it was through the use of words in sentences or color and form in compostion, they were working with the same palette, so to speak. At the time, Cezanne was finding more success at accomplishing that goal whilst Hemingway was still working at it. But he understood the goal just by looking at Cezanne's paintings. Hence, the visual artist inspired, or instructed, the writer.
That's usually the way it works, IMO. (Of course I say that because I'm a visual artist, so I think visual art and artists always take the lead and the literary guys follow!) Or, to put it more fairly, the visual arts attempt to open the 'doors of perception', whilst the literary arts attempt to make said perceptions more concrete. It's like the writer looks at the painting and thinks, 'I know what that guy's trying to say - let's see if I can say it.' But it rarely works the other way, because once a perception is captured in words there's no point in going back to the canvas.
Just my opinion, of course!
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Liz » Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:00 pm

Parlez wrote: But it rarely works the other way, because once a perception is captured in words there's no point in going back to the canvas.
Just my opinion, of course!

That's where film takes over as the visual medium. BUT many times film fails to do a book justice. Thanks for starting us off, Parlez.
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Buster » Thu Oct 16, 2008 2:21 pm

Parlez, it makes sense to consider Cezanne and Hemingway reductionists, though perhaps Hemingway was something of a revisionist, as well, particularly in the context of our first discussion about fact/fiction.

I'm not sure I agree with this though:
But it rarely works the other way, because once a perception is captured in words there's no point in going back to the canvas.


Surely book illustrators work from the word to the canvas, and many writers conjure up images that just beg to be realised in a visual medium.

I'm fairly ignorant about Cezanne's work, but as I remember, many of his paintings were of local landscapes, local people, and common objects, like apples. Perhaps part of what Hemingway was learning was to write about the specifics of what he knew - the objects and people at hand.

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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Parlez » Thu Oct 16, 2008 4:26 pm

You're right, Buster, but keep in mind that illustration is different than creating a work of original art. I don't mean to sound elitist about that - they're both noble, creative endeavors that take a lot of talent. But one relies on some concrete 'other' thing - like a line of text or a completed story - and the other does not. The creator of a work of original art relies on nothing but his or her own perceptions of reality, of time, of space. Thus the work reflects a unique expression of an individual, often transitory, way of seeing, which may or may not relate to anything or anybody else. If it communicates something to the viewer, fine; it it doesn't, fine. It's raison d'etre is to exist in and of itself.

When a writer's words are just begging to be imaged in another art form, that's where film comes in, IMO. I don't know of any visual artist who just can't wait to capture, say, a poem they've read and been moved by on canvas. Of course, everything we read or see or experience goes into the creative soup and no doubt finds expression in our chosen medium. But the visual artist doesn't consciously set out to portray the written word. He or she knows better - he or she will do something else!
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby fansmom » Thu Oct 16, 2008 6:16 pm

Suddenly the Zone is being weird. :-?
Last edited by fansmom on Thu Oct 16, 2008 6:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby fansmom » Thu Oct 16, 2008 6:18 pm

fansmom wrote:
Parlez wrote:But it rarely works the other way, because once a perception is captured in words there's no point in going back to the canvas.
Just my opinion, of course!
I don't understand what you mean, Parlez. What about allegorical paintings that try to make a story visual? What about all the paintings of scenes from the Bible? Are you saying they're not art?

In one of the tidbits that related to Cezanne, I said I could see similarity between Cezanne's work and Hemingway's. I suppose it's reductionism; how little can the author or artist put on paper to clearly convey his/her ideas?

I just like to imagine what Hemingway's writing would have been like if he'd gone to the Louvre and been inspired by these instead. :lol:


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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Oct 16, 2008 7:13 pm

fansmom, I think if Hemingway had found his inspiration in those paintings he might never have written about bullfighting! :lol:

Here is a quote from Cezanne that Liz included in her tidbit:


"May I repeat what I told you here: treat nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything brought into proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed towards a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth... lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. But nature for us men is more depth than surface, whence the need to introduce into our light vibrations, represented by the reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blueness to give the feel of air."

~ Paul Cézanne to Emile Bernard, April 15, 1904


The reductionist theory that several have mentioned may fit here.

In terms of writers and painters in a more general way, there seemed to be an experimentalist air to Paris at this time within the artistic communities. Some of Stein's and Joyce's works have been compared to the artistic movements of the time such as Cubism. Maybe the general artistic "vibe" if you will of the time was being explored in all art forms. I can see how that could create convergence of style and inspiration for all the art forms.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Parlez » Thu Oct 16, 2008 8:20 pm

Aye. I was talking about contemporary art, not art through the ages. I should've made that clear(er). Sorry! :chill:
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Inthezone » Thu Oct 16, 2008 9:04 pm

"If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written." ~ "A Movable Feast"

What we know or have read about post-impressionist, Cezanne - is that his work is far less elaborate or ornate than that of his impressionist antecedents. His unique style was to create an elaborate scene with a limited palette of color, a single focal point and short/repetitive brush strokes. (I've not studied art at length but once familiar with Cezanne's work, you will always be able to find him in a museum without reading the placard.) :frenchie:
IMO I agree with the consensus - he was a reductionist... a "less is more" artist. In the aftermath of impressionism, he was "cutting away all the ornament," leaving us with one true object.

Hemingway's style as quoted above was to write the truest sentence or story you could visualize in your mind's eye. He is also saying that less is more.
"For certain you must be lost to find the place what can't be found. Elseways everyone would know where it was." ~ Hector Barbossa

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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Lady Jill » Fri Oct 17, 2008 10:20 pm

Here's my take on this most interesting question:
A sucessful piece of art, to me, is meant to evoke emotion in the viewer. I can relate that to the "one true sentence " that Hem was speaking about.
You look, you see, you react. I can believe that a writer can view a painting, see that one true sentence and than write on a whole book.

A part in the movie "L A Story" comes to mind, although meant jokingly, where a long story is conjured up by Steve Martin just looking at a piece of modern art.
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby gemini » Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:35 pm

I am not sure if this is what Hemingway meant but I have noticed that sometimes I like a word description better then a visual because it lets me see what I imagine rather than what the artist imagined. Whether this is reduced to a simple form or not it lets each reader feel more than if its too descriptive. "Less" lets you contribute more yourself. This is more so in words than in art but I also see it in some art that leaves a lot to the imagination.
Like Hemingway I am not articulate enough to describe what I mean clearly to anyone else.
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Linda Lee » Sat Oct 18, 2008 12:23 am

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:pg. 13 – “I was learning from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone.”


To me, Hemingway is saying that the "one true sentence" was not enough to give the story he wanted to write the depth he wanted to portray. Cezanne's paintings were not one dimensional and Hemingway wanted his writings to have more than one facet in order to do justice to the story.

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:How does a writer learn from a painter? What does this say about the "one true sentence" quote from Question #3?


From the observation Hemingway made, I would say he learned by what he saw in the paintings and that they were more complex then they seemed at first glance. One true sentence may be a starting point for writing but to tell a complete story you need more than the bare minimum, you need adjectives and adverbs to flesh out the story and give it life.
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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Liz » Sat Oct 18, 2008 2:36 am

Linda Lee these are great points! I can see the connection between 2-dimensional art and multi-dimensional writing.

Lady Jill, now I want to see that movie again.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

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Re: A Moveable Feast Question #4 ~ Writers and Painters

Unread postby Parlez » Sat Oct 18, 2008 1:22 pm

Nice insights everyone! I'll just add, Thank Heavens for the Impressionists! They're the guys who added color and feeling to painting. They also were, as group, determinded to unhook from an artist's dependence on a sponsor, choosing their own subjects and painting in their own unique, emotional way. Naturally, that was a deadly combination - color, feeling, and independence - and most of them died infamous or obscure. But now noone can underestimate the debt the art world owes to those brave souls.
I think Cezanne was pretty clear about the fact that he was working on a formula - trying to introduce a new structure, or way of seeing, in his paintings. He never tried to get rid of the use of color; he just wanted to use it in a different, perhaps less emotional, way. His aim was to give volume and shape to images via the use of color, as opposed to merely expressing a more visceral response to what he was seeing. I think that's what Hemingway picked up on - the idea that words could be used in the same way, as building blocks that would give the reader an overall sense of depth and vibrancy without a lot of emotionality.
"Belay that! ...Do something else!" ~ Hector Barbossa

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