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  • Writer's pictureRobert Sadler


Who says writing isn’t a visual medium, i.e., visual art?

Actually, I don’t know if anyone has ever asked the question before, but probably someone has. For myself, I’ve always been a ‘visual artist’: painter—oil, water color, acrylic; photographer, graphic artist. Understanding the ‘visual artist’s construct, it has seemed implausible to me that writing isn’t viewed as a ‘visual art’.

Given the worldwide accessibility of Wikipedia, let’s use their definition as the lowest common denominator:

"The visual arts are art forms such as painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, ceramics, photography, video, filmmaking, design, crafts and architecture. Many artistic disciplines such as performing arts, conceptual art, and textile arts also involve aspects of the visual arts as well as arts of other types. Also included within the visual arts are the applied arts such as industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and decorative art.”

As you can see, nowhere in the above expansive definition is there any mention of writing, which is merely the iconographic representation of ideas or story telling.

And where does ‘the story’ come from? It comes from the mind, the subconscious mind as transferred through the hand or fingers by the autonomic system onto some visual media—made visual on a computer screen, in this day and age, or written or printed on a single sheet of paper or groups of pages, as in a book.

First comes the bespoke idea of the mind that respires and is transmitted to the visually interpretable.

How then is writing, especially Writing-Into-The-Dark*, different from painting? Both start with an idea, a mental picture, before that image comes to life, stroke by stroke on canvas. Few are the artists who paint from a plan, a schematic, or an outline. Plenty are the artists who start with a subconscious idea and ‘Paint-Into-The-Dark’.

So too the writer, who starts with and idea, a mental picture, before that image comes to life, letter by letter or keystroke by keystroke on paper or computer screen. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many are the writers who write from a plan, a schematic, or an outline—this is the fettered system of writing that is least like the claimed king of the visual arts, painting.

To the painter her idea is channeled from her subconscious mind to hand, then finger and brush (or instrument with which media is applied to some surface) and is the transfer portal through which the artist’s vision morphs into the finished painting, i.e., idea to ‘visual art’.

To the fiction writer, her idea is channeled from her subconscious mind to her hand to her fingertip (or instrument through which media is applied to some surface) and is the subconscious transfer portal through which the writer’s vision morphs, via the story’s characters words and actions, into the finished story, i.e., a short story, novella, novel, etc.

Why then—if an idea’s inception is transmuted through the axons and dendrites of the subconscious then through our physical bodies into our perceived reality of the visual world, for example, on canvas or paper—shouldn’t an artist’s painting and a fiction writer’s printed story/book both be considered ‘visual art’?

*WITD & WOITD—As helpful exegesis I pulled five quotes from Harvey Stanbrough’s blog/writer’s journal (see:

“As I’ve said all along, WITD is trusting the characters to tell their own story through your subconscious mind.”

“Because I’ll be writing off into the dark. (I added “off” because somehow, some folks equate “writing INTO the dark” with “writing IN the dark.” Not the same thing.)”

“When we Write a story Off Into The Dark, (WOITD) we don’t know the way. It’s like we’re making our way through a pitch-black house we’ve never been in before. (Hence, we’re going “into the dark.”) Even if we suspect there are signposts along the way, we can’t see them in advance.

“And we don’t want to. That’s why we don’t outline. When we write into the dark, those signposts appear, at the behest of the characters, as they are needed.”

“Likewise, our character, like every other living creature, has a history, a backstory. But, like all other human beings, he reveals only the part that’s necessary. More importantly, he reveals it only when doing so becomes necessary.”

rjs. Note: Bold and Italics are mine.

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Harvey Stanbrough
Harvey Stanbrough
Jan 12, 2022

Thanks for the mention, Robert. Yes, writing is a visual art, though primarily a subliminal one. Few readers will hold a writing at arm length, pages open, to get a feel for how the story will read. But they could.

Thoughts from our creative subconscious are represented as little black symbolic works of art—letters and punctuation—on the screen or page, and of course they mean something when they appear in certain combinations. In turn, those collective marks subliminally affect reader-mood and even reader-speed by their arrangement into longer or shorter sentences and then the arrangement of those into longer or shorter paragraphs.

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