When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually lie. I either tell them that I am a writer or I tell them that I am a painter. I rarely say that I am both – which would be the truth.
Okay, it is only a lie by omission but most people don’t like the idea that one person can be both. In my eyes, however, these two things are almost the same. Traditionally, painters were storytellers, just like film directors. This is why we use the term “moving pictures”. A picture that moves. Writing a story is like painting in many ways as anyone can tell who has seen a Delacroix, Rubens or an El Greco. Paintings are about stories, characters, situations and emotions that take place in our minds when in fact, what is really out there hasn’t even a colour. There is nothing but wavelength and shape. All the rest takes place in the human mind. The brain is the one and only storyteller. I believe it is the artist’s job to facilitate this transition. We have to put stories into the minds of our readers, viewers or, simply, the audience.
Funnily, it also works the other way round. Stills or screenshots from films sometimes make great images: think of the scene where Darth Vader beckons Luke Skywalker and says, “I am your father” or when the T-Rex is chasing the car in Jurassic Park? Would a painter like Goya have said no to a commission?
All a writer needs to learn is how to hold a brush. All a painter needs to learn is how to spell and how to be patient because putting word after word is a much slower process than arranging shapes on canvas. What I am trying to say is that the mental process in the artist’s mind is very similar. The goal is to interest the reader or viewer in the outcome of a conflict because art is usually about confrontation.
That says a lot about our species. Homo sapiens – we are a violent lot, and there can be no doubt about it; the most vicious monster that ever walked on canvas (and the silver screen is canvas, too). Who killed the Alien, King Kong or the great white shark? Who defeated the Martians, Predators or Zombies? Yes, it is us, the deadliest of them all. Humans love wars and fights – just open a history book!
To understand and to examine this human thirst for violence is an artist’s job and it does not matter where the discussion takes place. Being an artist is about understanding human nature. The expression is a matter of the craft we chose, writing, painting, drawing, dancing. Are all arts basically one? When it comes to a deeper level of meaning, I suppose they are: the big dividing line running not between the different types of the arts but between those who think and work like an artist and others who do not.
Albrecht Behmel is the author of the historical fiction novel The Stronghold.