Old or New?

Etta Wilson

Blogger: Etta Wilson

Location: On the way to Monterey

Weather:  Mid-70s

Flying across this great land from Tennessee to California, I constantly was looking down to see which parts of the US were decked out in autumn’s splendor and which parts remain much the same from season to season. The landscape may seem not to change from year to year, and yet it’s never quite the same. I no longer dread the cold of winter as I once did because I know beneath the freeze new forms are emerging–something new coming forth from the old.

I was reminded of this recently in viewing a wonderful array of Impressionist paintings from the Musee D’Orsay in Paris and now on exhibit in Nashville. In the last half of the nineteenth century, Claude Monet and other painters in Paris were influenced by Spanish artists, especially Velasquez. The Parisians changed their style of painting from the elaborate, tightly-executed and highly-colored scenes much in favor in Italy to more monochromatic painting for impact or “impression” on the viewer.

Many of these first impressionist paintings were black and white portraits with perhaps a shade of another color. Think Whistler’s Mother. Monet painted a number of these pictures of individuals with little or no background, purely to capture the emotional effect before going on to do such works as Water Lilies in more abstract and colorful form.

It occurs to me that when something new is being conceived, it often happens in the dark or in black and white before evolving and bursting forth in color. This may apply to the taste many of us have for novels in which the stark black-and-white drama of early chapters is resolved in more harmonious tones at the end.

How do you introduce some radical new content in your manuscript? How do we present some new dynamic, especially those of us who write nonfiction? Is it as a natural progression from the old or a totally new element? How much are Americans partial to something that appears “new” versus the tried and true? Lots to think about here!

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  1. Kay Elam says:

    I just discovered your blog and was amused because I also blogged about color and writing yesterday. I guess it’s something about how beautiful Nashville is this time of year. I have enjoyed your posts.

    Have a wonderful trip.

  2. In literature, I think there must always “be a road” over which the reader can travel that connects them to whatever idea the author would like to get across. Not many of us will embrace something new without first deciding if we are even interested, or not. However, if there is something familiar that we can immediately relate to in those “first impressions,” we will often jump on the bandwagon without asking any questions, at all.

    The power seems to lie in the connections. Choosing the perfect connections might just be what seperates the professionals from the amateurs.

  3. Jill Kemerer says:

    Good thoughts! When I walk through an art museum, I often “know it when I see it” so to speak.

    I think that’s true with writing, also. We just try different approaches and go with the one that feels right.

  4. Caroline says:

    These questions provide for some interesting thought. In my nonfiction writing, I really think that I don’t come up with brand new, never-before-considered ideas. My thoughts are spurred on my something else, whether it be something someone else said, something I read, an image I viewed (referring back to yesterday’s post where images can provoke feelings), or an experience. While I think that all my ideas grow from some other original seed, I do think that we can bring new perspectives on ideas.

    This viewpoint might connect with D. Ann’s comment about the attractiveness of connections. Because my thoughts grow off of another idea or event, a connection can be made and that can be of more interest to others.

    I also think of C.S. Lewis’s writings in this context. He was able to take something that many could connect with (like in, MERE CHRISTIANITY, the existence of “right and wrong”) and take logical steps to come to a perhaps unconsidered idea by that reader (in MERE CHRISTIANITY, that idea being the desire to follow Christ and humans being made in God’s image and to live to glorify Him).

    I’m interested to read others’ comments on this topic, too!

  5. I remember the first time I truly had an experience with a painting in a museum. It was in the National Gallery in D.C. and it was Dali’s Last Supper–a new take on an old painting. While it wasn’t as large as the one in Milan, it still stretched across most of the wall. Something about the painting made me feel as if I were walking into it and the image of Christ in the center as it began to float upward seemed to draw me too. Later I would get to see DaVinci’s. While beautiful, I didn’t get the same feeling.

    Our words need to draw people into our story and place them there whether done in a new tone of modern language or through a literary tried-and-true approach.

  6. Etta Wilson says:

    Interesting that several of us are thinking about “connectedness” or about about being drawn into an image. Isn’t that what fiction writers do–draw readers into another world or connect them with it?