Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Paintings and Photographs

I studied mathematics at school, but being a rebellious sort, I insisted that I still wanted some time to "do" art. I loved to draw and paint, and I worked hard to make my creations look realistic. But one day the art teacher, who also loved mathematics, was showing me the "equation" of a snail shell. She stopped for a moment to ask the difference between the real shell and its mathematical equivalent. Of course, the flaws were the difference, and the flaws were what made it real.

My teacher went on to ask the difference between a photograph and a painting. We concluded that it was the same idea. A photograph shows exactly what's there, but doesn't give it life. A painting shows what I think is there, whether real or imaginary. A painting is flawed, and its flaws tell the viewer something about the painter as well as the view. They bring it to life.

I wonder if the same thing goes for writing fiction. I can describe a scene in perfect detail and tell you everything that's there, and it can mean nothing. Or I can select the features I describe and flavor them with the emotions of my characters.

Is that the difference between showing and telling I wonder. Telling's a photograph, and I'll surely need some if I'm going to set the scene. But showing is a painting that adds those special flaws to make it real.

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