To be a good writer, you must read widely.
I don’t have to put that in quotation marks because every writing mentor, English teacher, writing friend, and writing book has told me the same thing. Substitute ‘more’ for widely, or ‘lots’. More than that. Even more. Read everything.
Read books. Read magazines. Read old letters. Read tweets and sub-tweets and screenshots sharing specific paired tweets. Read the hashtags, read the comments. Read parks. Read museum exhibits. Read cooking stores and clothing stores and high-end fashion, and don’t forget department stores. Read clever ice cream stores with branded cookbooks and a subscription service for ice cream pints.
My favorite thing to read is museum exhibits. One of the best I have seen was a show by Howardena Pindell during the 2018 spring season at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, IL*. It wasn’t just art that made the show memorable. The exhibit began with Pindell’s early media of choice, notably her work with paper dots and numerical patterns set in 3-D works. It moved to her exploration of themes and other media until the last room married theme and medium, so that her numerical patterns became an exploration of social justice. To one side of the dramatic works, there was an early work again, a piece consisting of an acrylic box filled with paper dots. Walking through the exhibit, we witnessed how the artist changed from a young artist experimenting with novel media to a mature artist exploring interconnecting themes. As viewers, we were changed by the exploration of the marriage of media and theme, and I walked away with a better understanding of how media can enhance thematic expression and exploration.
It was a good book.
The whole time I was reading the exhibit, I was only ever aware that Pindell had created thought-provoking art. Yet, there were times I got the sense that she had struggled, or triumphed, or regretted.
Each piece in the exhibit, in most exhibits, has a little explanatory card which can say something about the media used in creation, the title, the number sequence of the piece. A really good little explanatory card will use the available space to tell me what I need to know, but leave enough space for me to work out my own interaction with the piece.
In bad experiences, the little card has told me not what I am seeing, but what to see, what to think, how to feel about it.
The more places and things I read and read about and read to compare to other places and things I have read, the more I understand how to leave space for the reader. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
* “What Remains To Be Seen”, April-May 2018, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL