The ekphrastic writer can use an artwork as a metaphor to enrich the text. For example, in my story "The Yellow Jacket," (Life Studies) the young Armand models for van Gogh in his studio. When he sees the painter's "Café Terrace on the place du Forum" with its swirling, diamond-like stars, he is reminded of the sparkles in Jacqueline's eyes. He knows that there are more stars beyond the edge of the canvas, and we complete the analogy that there will be more women in Armand's life than Jacqueline whom we know he will lose. Yellow light pours out of the café in the painting, and we hope that he recognizes its hopeful import.
In a similar fashion, in Clara and Mr. Tiffany, about the women who created the famous Tiffany leaded-glass lamps, I was able to depict the vast social difference between the Gilded Age of uptown Manhattan and the flood of immigrants into the Lower East Side. I saw the lamps as a bridge between poverty and tenement living and the rich industrialist families who purchased the lamps. Thus, those lamps have become an icon of an important moment in New York history.
In my story "The Things He Didn't Know," a construction worker in an art museum sees "Three Marys Grieving the Loss of their Lord," and notices in one of the Marys seems to be longing for something she couldn't have. He says, "This one loved him differently. This one knew all along he wouldn't be there. He'd be gone." It helps him to get over the loss of a girlfriend not right for him.
"A Flower for Ginette" illustrates a deepening moral sense. Monet's gardener steals a scrap of a water lily painting that Monet intended for burning, and gives it to his wife. Later realizing that Monet had a right to choose what remained of his work, the gardener prays that "God would not let him stumble and break a leg and die in the dirt track, would not let his heart stop beating before he could get home to build a little fire of kindling in the grate and place on it the slice [of painting]."
My writing is full of epiphanies experienced before works of art. I'm grateful to have discovered such a generous muse.
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