How Art Can Inspire Fiction

By Maryann Yin Comment

Historical fiction writer Tracy Chevalier gave a TED Talk called “Finding the Story Inside the Painting,” exploring three paintings that inspired her writing.

We’ve embedded the video above–what paintings have influenced your writing?

While writing Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier looked at Johannes Vermeer‘s painting and asked these questions : 1. Does the model love the artist? 2. What type of relationship does the model share with the artist? 3. How was the girl chosen to model in the artist’s studio? 4. Considering her plain clothes, how was the model able to attain the pearl earrings she wears? 5. How does the girl’s love for the artist affect the other characters involved?

After answering these questions and conducting extensive historical research, Chevalier could plot her book. At the end of her talk she confessed that despite having written an entire novel about this painting, she still has unanswered questions. For instance, Chevalier has never been able to definitively deduce if the expression on the model’s face is happy or sad. What do you think?

Chevalier’s practice of using art as her writing muse is one that is especially endorsed by educators.

For decades, teachers used Chris Van Allsburg‘s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for creative writing assignments where the students were instructed to figure out the “story” behind these mysterious images. Last year, Van Allsburg teamed up with 13 celebrated children’s writers to create short stories of their own in a collection entitled The Chronicles of Harris Burdick.