Commercial and Literary Fiction as Paintings

I’ve written at length about differences between literary and commercial fiction (including different genres and what “mainstream” fiction is), but reading Bone Gap this month while also studying Frida Kahlo has got me thinking in allusions, so I wanted to share another quick observation on the topic.

Commercial fiction is like representational art: whether it’s about something true or not, it’s clear what the subject of the painting or story is.

Images in this post may be copyrighted and are used for educational purposes only.

Above: Moroccan Man by José Tapiro y Baro, 1913; Takiyasha the Witch and the Skeleton Spectre by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1847; Self-portrait at the Dressing Table by Zinaida Serebriakova, 1909; Rebecca et Eliézer by Alexandre Cabanel, 1883

Literary fiction can be more like impressionist, expressionist, surrealist, or abstract art—less accessible because the subject isn’t always clear, and the presentation isn’t always appreciated.

Symbolism holds more weight in literary fiction.

Literary fiction holds cultural literacy dear, alluding to classic literature and ancient mythology.

carlo-carra-penelope

Penelope by Carlo Carrà, 1917

Literary fiction is more likely to experiment with mixed media, incorporating poetry, illustrations, comics, letters, or other ephemera.

robert-rauschenberg-bed-1955-trivium-art-history

Bed by Robert Rauschenberg, 1955

Words in literary fiction are like visible brushstrokes, sometimes drawing attention away from the story and towards the writer as artist. Word choice is important: how can you combine words in a fresh way to create new impressions on the reader? What connotations do the words carry? Literary fiction is imbued with tone created not by line or color but by diction and metaphor.

odilon-redon-the-cyclops-1914-trivium-art-history

The Cyclops by Odilon Redon, 1914

Do you have a favorite modern artist? What is your favorite work of literary fiction?

2 thoughts on “Commercial and Literary Fiction as Paintings

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