Great Art and Granularity

I have a new favourite artist. Check out this painting by Christi Belcourt. It’s called My Heart is Beautiful.

My Heart is Beautiful

You can’t see it in this image, but each flower and plant is made up of tiny dots of colour, like beadwork. Belcourt is Métis and bright floral beadwork on dark-coloured fabric is a traditional Métis art. She’s also a keen observer of real wildflowers. The botanical details give her paintings a whole extra dimension.

What I like about the image is not just that the overall design is pleasing to the eye, but that there’s more to see at every level of magnification. You can stand back and enjoy the swirly damask pattern, or you can let your eye travel around the canvas and identify the different species of plants. Every time I look at it, I see something I didn’t notice before: Vervain! Sundew! Robin’s nests! If we could visit the canvas in person and lean in still closer, we would see the dots of different colours in each flower.

The painting is also a good analogy for what makes a great novel memorable to me. Some books are fun to read the first time through, but don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Other ones only become more meaningful the closer you look at them and the more you know about their subject matter. In a really great book, you can keep coming back and find something new to see each time.

When I write, I want to be as granular as a Belcourt painting. The overall plot should be fun, but as people look again more closely, they should also be able to recognize glimpses of reality: gestures that people really make, details of the setting, themes that resonate. At the finest level of magnification, the prose should be beautiful. I don’t think I can claim to have produced the literary equivalent of My Heart is Beautiful yet, but the work continues.

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