Are you a people watcher? Are you entertained by the family dynamics of people in museums, restaurants, and airports? Do you sit in public places and make predictions about the passers-by, or develop their life histories? What occupations and hobbies they have? What personality types they exhibit?
A variation of this was once a favorite activity of mine as a creative writing teacher.
I’d show my students a photo or art masterpiece and have them free write about it, whatever came to mind. For example, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks:
If I had a dozen students, I got a dozen unique and varied responses, from poetry to prosaic description to short story. Even when most wrote short stories, each took a completely different direction.
The protagonist (point of view character) might be any one of the four people at the counter: the waiter, the woman in the red dress, her date, or the lone man across the room.
So many questions were raised . . .
- Where exactly are these people? What city? What time is it?
- Why are each of them here on this particular night?
- What brought them to this point in their lives?
- Who’s the main character?
- What are their personalities like? What are their moods?
- What is the tone/mood/atmosphere of this diner on this night?
- What is a typical day like for each of them?
- How often do they come here and why?
- Are they strangers? Or do they know each other? How do they get along (or not)?
- What do they aspire to?
- Where do they wish they were instead?
- Who do they wish they were with instead?
So many story possibilities! All in one picture.
We all know a picture is worth 1000 words.
But in addition, a picture evokes 1000 stories.
If I had 1000 students, guaranteed, they’d each have a different combination of character interactions, dialogs, motives, plots . . .
According to the dictionary, EVOKE means . . . bring to mind, put one in mind of, conjure up, summon (up), invoke, elicit, induce, kindle, stimulate, stir up, awaken, arouse, call forth, recall, echo, capture.
What it evoked for each student proved to be as varied as the ice cream Sundaes and Shakes menu at Ivanhoe’s (200 of them!). We had a blast reading the stories together afterward, seeing where their imaginations took them.
I’d written my own version of the story and none of theirs were like mine. And that’s a great thing!
I revel in this creative diversity. It’s just another reminder of the ingenuity we each inherently have because we’re made in God’s image. See Post #2.
This diversity is something that teachers of the arts contend with when dealing with many students at once. How do you encourage individual ideas when working on a class assignment? Particularly, in art class.
In my next post, you’ll meet an elementary art teacher who does this extremely well.
In the meantime . . .
How would YOU answer some of the questions above about the Nighthawks picture? What story do you see unfolding . . . and whose story is it?
P.S. Coming next: An artist who’s just as comfortable sculpting polymer clay trees as she is painting Tom Petty portraits (& other stars), and also “draws” the best from her art students