A friend recently confessed that she didn’t think she could ever write nonfiction, which is highly personal, because it would make her feel naked. I responded that we are each born naked, and that slowly we become socialized and we put clothes on, not just to cover up our bodies which are sexualized by society, but to protect ourselves, to don a persona that will take us through life with a minimum amount of vulnerability and the maximum amount of armor between ourselves and others. We want to feel safe. We crave security.

The conundrum is that in order to be an artist of any kind, one must be vulnerable and strip away one’s “inner clothes” if not exactly our physical cloth vestments, in order to get to the core of what it is we want to make art about, whether it’s with words, paints, clay or any other medium.  We need to consciously place ourselves in circumstances that put us in direct touch with our vulnerability, with our senses rather than with our intellects and our rational minds, both of which will usually lead us right back to what we already know, to what is safe, to what we have already figured out, to what we are comfortable with.

Life itself can make one feel naked. Writing is simply choosing what and how many clothes to wear, and when. This day a hat and gloves, the next a sari and sandals. This day lipstick, perfume and jewelry, the next one’s own salty sweet scent.

This lovely B &W photo from 1934, in which a young woman is posing for an art class, has nothing to do, really, with being a nude model for artists. The picture is from Gesture Writing, an opinion piece in the Times by Rachel Howard about becoming an artist’s model to supplement her income while writing a novel.

“I soon grew to love the freedom and strange relinquishment of status that comes from offering your nude presence to artists. What surprised me the most, though, was how profoundly it changed my writing life.”

This article resonated completely with me. Howard makes comparisons between an artist having to capture quickly in bold strokes the energy of a pose before rendering it (filling it in with details), so that one can get a sense of the whole story, the essence of what the pose (a piece of writing) is about, before it vanishes back into the recesses of one’s consciousness.

She writes about writing being like drawing, like painting, something I have always felt, as writing is an entirely visual affair for me. Beyond that it resonated on a deeper level, because life itself is like making a painting. We create our lives as we go day-by-day. We are the architects of our lives. We must by turns step up close to fill in the detail, but then we must also constantly step backward to take in the whole, to see where we are going, to assess whether what we are actually in the process of painting is what we intend.

It is so easy to get caught up in detail and to forget the bigger picture, so easy to get caught up in rational thought, to over analyze, to over think, to stop ourselves from feeling. The inner critic is mischievous and will silent an errant instinct, a rogue notion, an unexplainable creative urge. But it is up to us to pay close attention to those sudden bursts of instinct – to write them down quickly, to sketch them immediately as they come to us, else they will take the back door out and leave us forever.

Like tasting a sauce and knowing it needs a little cumin. Like knowing it’s alright not to trim the knockout rose bushes so neatly that nature would scream in protest about forcing one of its children into a confined shape.

“To see in the way that Collett is describing, to see deeply enough to capture the vibrancy of life on the page, a writer must move her consciousness out of information organizing mode into an intuitive way of seeing subtle organic connections and capturing them in bold strokes.”

Here on Google+, where our individual profiles are very much like a blank page on which we paint every day, where the public stream is a kind of feast to which we each bring a covered dish, it is easy to get caught up in the details and hard to step back and remind ourselves of where we are going.

While we don’t exactly take our clothes off here, we are vulnerable in a sense, we do reveal ourselves in a sense, we do give others glimpses…and they sketch us quickly, getting a feel for the essence of what we are sending out.

“The age-old artists’ practice of gesture drawing suggests a new practice, might we call it “gesture writing,” that can train us to “see” the whole before we write.” 

Perhaps what we are all doing here is “Gesture Reading.”

No nudity required.

The link for Howard’s article on Gesture Writing:


#writing   #nonfiction