Barred from Paris’s top art academy because of her sex, Barcelona-born French painter Amélie Beaury-Saurel (1848–1924) joined the Académie Julian as a student and ended up running the place. A talent called manly by male judges, she embodied women’s strength in her art and example.
“I know that I should become somebody; but with skirts — what can one do?” Plenty, as it turned out. Marie Bashkirtseff (1858–1884) made her bold voice heard during her short lifetime.
Art … is as much a source of happiness for the beginner as for the master. One forgets everything in one’s work. — Marie Bashkirtseff
Her outspoken diary entries, published after her death at 25 from tuberculosis, were as sharply observed as her paintings. So much so that her aristocratic Russian family tried to cut out the scandalous bits.
To a woman who knows her own mind men can only be a minor consideration. …
French painter Eva Gonzalès (1849–1883) spent her artistic career shrugging off the male gaze. In her work, she expressed her own outlook.
Early on, exposure to a certain manly stare nearly derailed her career. Édouard Manet, perhaps to please her literary father, painted the young artist’s portrait.
Awkwardly posed at an easel in impractical formal dress, she dabs at a bland composition. The popular painting kept contemporaries from taking her as the serious artist she was—most mistook her for a charmingly inept artists’ model.
Acclaimed during her short lifetime, Gonzalès used Manet’s realist focus on everyday life as a springboard. …
Philadelphia, 1887. In the lecture hall, above Henry Tanner’s head, the corpse hung from a roof beam, tethered to pulleys for moving its arms and legs. Henry Tanner steeled himself. Another perverse homage to the human body from Tom Eakins. The ugly similarity to a lynching was clear. Henry knew his mentor wouldn’t accept the comparison. Tom insisted he viewed the human body objectively. But what was objective about this grotesque display?
He joined his fellow artists. They edged away from him. Some glanced from the corpse to Henry, then laughed. He opened his drawing pad and squinted at the hanging man’s shoulder, gray skin peeled back to expose bare muscle. …
The illustrations of painter and engraver Alice Barber Stephens (1858–1932) featured women who stepped outside the domestic sphere at their peril. Creating from the traditionally male business sphere, she helped other women artists thrive.
“Stephens [has]been marginalized in scholarly texts and museum exhibitions…which tend to centralize the contributions of male illustrators at the expense of the women who comprised at least one-third of the artists whose work was regularly published in the illustrated press.” —Kelsey Frady Malone, “Sisterhood as Strategy: The Collaborations of American Women Artists in the Gilded Age.”
Stephens joined the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then a hub of the U.S. art world, in 1876, the first year women were admitted. Women students protested being excluded from the privilege of using nude models, and they won their battle. Her first published artwork appeared in a Scribner’s magazine article about the Academy women’s victory. …
Stand back from the frame: a thousand pastel dots merge into a rainy street scene or a sunny romp at the seashore. Pointillist painters build worlds by layering multicolored strokes. The dots blend. The picture pops.
Likewise, fiction writers build worlds through well-chosen, particular details. You don’t need a thousand of them, though. Just a shining few.
Examples of Shining Details
When you’re writing fiction, does your main character have a prop, some physical object they carry like a talisman and return to in times of stress or happiness? A prop that’s unique to them?
Here’s an easy way to empower your characters with props that can turbocharge meaning in your fiction writing.
A fictional prop is a physical object a character finds meaningful. A Sherlock Holmes clay pipe. A Jay Gatsby silk shirt. A Winnie the Pooh honey jar. A Tinky Winky red purse.
Fictional Prop Example 1
My character Lily Paige, a young woman rising from the ashes of a poor upbringing, sports an old camel coat, a caramel wool trench with deep pockets and a buckled sash. …
How do you plot your fiction? Do you make it up as you go along (known as flying by the seat of your pants, or pantsing)? Or do you create a painstaking outline and stick with it down to the last detail?
Most writers seek a middle ground. They want wiggle room for creative inspiration. But they also want some signposts to guide them as they breeze down the road toward a finished work of fiction.
Pantser or plotter? No matter, this technique can help.
Don’t you wish you had a useful, versatile solution to the pantser versus plotter dilemma? …