The Non-fiction Artist


“All has not been said and never will be.” Samuel Beckett (from The Painter’s Keys)

Does originality and imagination require an artwork be cut from a whole new cloth or is it simply to look from a fresh angle? The push to constantly startle the viewer has led art further and further out on a limb to the point of barely hanging onto to anything that can actually be defined as art. Calling a pile of sticks or a stack of paper, “art” stretches the definition so far that the result has been the dilution of ability to appreciate the originality and imagination of the realist painter.   This push for startling novelty has led to a confusion of what is imaginative and original in art.

If an artist takes a subject such as trees and creates paintings depicting a certain aspect of these particular trees, does it require imagination?  Suppose you walk by those trees everyday but have not noticed the intricacies of the bark or the root system, or maybe the color until that artist’s painting called your attention to the detail.  Suddenly, you are seeing that tree in an entirely different way. Could that painting not be called imaginative, if it has spurred a new look at an otherwise mundane subject?   Did it not require an artist’s imagination to see something in that tree that may have otherwise not been seen?

The work of the non-fiction writer, likewise, requires the imagination and originality of the author as much as the writer of fiction.  There are few constraints on the fiction writer, who is free to go in any direction. But the writer of non-fiction must find a new and different way of saying what has already been said. Otherwise why read it? The same is true of the realist artist.  If the subject does not give a new look at an old subject, why look?  The non-fiction artist, like the non-fiction writer, reveals a way of seeing a subject that has not been seen before. To paraphrase the opening quote, “All has not been seen and never will be.”  It takes imagination to see that.


Note: This topic was inspired by a comment conversation with Margaret Rose Stringer, author of And Then Like my Dreams.  Click on the links for a wonderful book and blog!


The Artist’s Portfolio Magazine is featuring an exhibit of “non-fiction art” by Carla Nano.  Follow the link to Nano’s beautiful work.


Author: MaryGwyn

Artist-Art Educator-Art in Healthcare

7 thoughts on “The Non-fiction Artist”

  1. Does every work of art reveal the artists soul/heart/world view? If it does, then isn’t every work of art different because of it…even if it’s the same subject? Doesn’t the artist change the common just because she is seeing it trough her own eyes? If fifteen people drew the same tree, wouldn’t you get fifteen different works of art? Same tree, different perspective, vision? Maybe I don’t understand. “If the subject does not give a new look at an old subject, why look?” But wouldn’t every work automatically give a new look to an old subject? Maybe not. I don’t know. It’s probably because I don’t do anything with something in mind. I just make stuff and that’s it. However it turns out is the way it turns out. I shut myself off and let the art do the work:) Maybe that’s why I don’t get this. No two works of art are the same, right?

    1. Well, yes and yes. The topic of opinion was whether or not non-fiction required imagination. I believe that it does, just of a different type. As does realism. We have become so programmed to look for the startling that we can miss how much imagination is apart of all art, fiction or non-fiction, realism, abstraction, etc. An exact copy would be the only thing lacking in the creative imagination, in my opinion. I could be wrong!

  2. That is extremely civil of you, M-G ! I did not expect any kind of ‘source reference’: it was your words that made me think along those lines.
    And you have, as I expected, expressed it admirably. But then, you always do.
    Visited Nano’s site and especially love the group shot at the beginning …

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