Monsters in art

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
The February IWSG question: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

My answer: Actually, being a writer often spoils the pleasure of reading for me. The more I learn about writing the more critical I’m to the books I read. Nowadays, I can only enjoy superbly written books. Whenever I encounter a mistake – spelling or grammar – I itch to edit the text. Sometimes, I can’t even finish a book I enjoyed before I started writing because I’m disgusted by all the writer’s blunders, grammatical as well as structural. But whenever a book is truly GOOD, my joy in it is even deeper than before. I can appreciate not only the engaging story but also the author’s professional skills.
I have been contemplating a series of posts about art: what I think of certain paintings or certain art styles, what I like and dislike. Is it wrong for a writer’s website? Should I have another website dedicated to my art-related musings, or is it okay to explore it here? The deal is: classical paintings often inspire my writing. They give me ideas.

One of the ideas I’m fiddling with now is a story about a monster. Anyone who ever took art history in college knows that there are monsters in classical art, especially in religious Renaissance paintings. The artistic tradition of the times demanded they should represent evil, but do they?

In the same Renaissance paintings, there are countless images of people doing despicable things to each other, maiming, torturing, and killing their fellow humans. The monsters are not so murderously active. More often than not they are on the defensive, being pierced by a holy lance or beheaded by a mighty sword. Or they might peek slyly from behind a saintly hero, while the righteous warriors burn heretics alive or cut their limbs off or shoot them full of arrows like pincushions, all in the name of ‘true faith’.

Unlike the monsters, who sometimes drag their already dead victims into the fires of hell, the heroes who punish the sinners do it while their victims are still alive and suffering. Moreover, the heroes are always pretty, always center-stage, while the monsters are always on the periphery of the paintings, always ugly and pitiful. Perhaps that’s why they are usually depicted as the representation of sin.

I don’t think they are evil or sinful. They are just different, with horns and tails, and thus shunned and hated, besmirched and reviled by all who don’t see beneath the surface. There are few stories in literature about a ‘beast’ being not so beastly, while a handsome man proves to be a real monster. Beauty and the Beast is the most famous example. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo was another. I’m sure there are more but I don’t remember them at the moment.

I think I want to write about a monster. Of course, there is a bunch of ‘demons’ in the recent spate of paranormal romances, but these are all handsome hunks, not ugly monsters, the creatures I want to explore.

In my view, monsters comprise a race of their own. We all know that racial features—like hooves or fangs—have nothing to do with any moral qualities. Like any race, some monsters are probably better than others. Many of them have hellish jobs and a devil for a boss. They deserve some recognition. Maybe some adventures of their own. Maybe even a smattering of love. Don’t they? Maybe they are not so ugly, when viewed through the right eyes?

Look at the poor guys in this post, all of them from a painting by Hans Leu the Elder (1460–1510). What did they ever do to any of us?

Do you know more stories about monsters who are not really bad guys? Tell me in the comments.
All images courtesy of wikipedia.





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23 Responses to Monsters in art

  1. Julie Reeser says:

    I love posts about art. I vote yes.

  2. Loni Townsend says:

    Yeah, it’s tough to turn off my internal editor.

    In my current big book wip, I’ve got a character who is turning into a monster and fighting her instincts that come with it.

  3. It inspires you, so post some artwork and talk about it.
    How about the Bumble in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?

  4. Post what you love!
    I like your idea. I guess other than the stories you mentioned, the only one with a “good” monsters I can think of is Monsters, Inc.

  5. I think you should definitely write about artwork. I’d be interested. I’m fascinated by the paintings you have in this post. They kind of remind me of Bosch’s work.

  6. Denise Covey says:

    Hi Olga. Nothing’s wrong on a writer’s website. I think the writing craft posts are best left to the experts (although these days, everybody’s an expert LOL). I only post about what a certain writing craft has worked/not worked, for me. I always think everybody knows more than I do, anyway, but, oh it’s difficult.

    Some art posts like this would be stupendous. A blogger has to post about what a blogger wants. And, by my experience, having too many blogs is a ball and chain. I’ve tried to amalgamate mine.

    Can’t wait to see your WEP post!


  7. Hello, Olga. I enjoyed your post on monsters in art, so I vote for more art posts. Speaking of interesting monsters, have you watched the TV series Lucifer? Yes, OK, Lucifer is technically a fallen angel, but I’ll bet you’d enjoy his take on humanity, along with that of his demon helper Maze.

  8. I think most of us writers have another art form or type of creativity we enjoy/indulge in. I don’t think art posts would be bad on here at all. Plus, creativity begets creativity, just like you said. It’s all inspiration!

  9. Pat Hatt says:

    Art posts work, especially if you enjoy doing them. haha that itch to edit sure can arise as one reads.

  10. I loved art history in college! I took one class then I was hooked.

    I’m playing with monsters and the idea of them in my current WiP. Fun stuff. 🙂

  11. Nicki Elson says:

    I absolutely think posts about art belong on a writer’s blog! It’s all the same creative flow, just expressed in different ways. BTW, that first monster is definitely evil – I can see it in his wee, beady eyes.

  12. emaginette says:

    It must hurt to read some books and not be able to finish. I’ve been there too. It breaks my heart that the errors were missed by their critters, editors, and proofreaders.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  13. I love you story concept. Let’s hear the monster’s side of the story for a change.

  14. lexacain says:

    I really like the way you’re seeing the monsters as tragic outsiders who are being unfairly judged by “humans.” That can be a metaphor for many universal problems about being the outsider or the minority. (I took art history but remember no monsters! lol) Have a great week!

  15. spunkonastick says:

    There are a lot of themes you could explore regarding those monsters. They certainly could be more tortured than the humans.

  16. Yvonne V says:

    I think you should combine the two! BTW I just got a book out from the library, In Sunlight Or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper.

  17. Juneta says:

    Art is inspiring. The monster thing fascinated. I love mythology and the psychological reflects found within the monster of story.
    Happy IWSG Day!
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  18. Donna L Hole says:

    Many people are creative in multiple outlets. I don’t see why you can’t post about anything that inspires you here. Humans have this central flaw: they think they are the only sentient beings of worth in the universe. Anything that doesn’t look human must be a monster. You’ve got a cool story concept going.

  19. I too have a hard time enjoying a book that is poorly written. In the past I’m pretty sure I let a lot of things slip on by, but the more I learn the more critical I become. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t so.
    I don’t think there is anything wrong with art on a ‘writers’ website. It’s all a part of the creative process. Often works of art inspire me to write. There is ALWAYS a story within.

    I’m sure there are many other good guys disguised as monsters in literature, but like you, I can’t think of any at the moment.

  20. I think you should blog about art. If you want to connect it to story-telling, go ahead. But it’s not something you have to do. As a writer, I want information about the world, not just writing advice. In fact, I prefer the former.

  21. Nick Wilford says:

    I don’t mind a handful of typos in a book if the story is really good, but if there’s a mass of them then it becomes impossible to read. I’ve sadly seen a couple of books like that. Art posts would definitely be welcome, especially as so many paintings have a story to tell. It would inspire a lot of us. How about the Phantom of the Opera as a monster?

  22. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to incorporate art into your writing blog. Personally, I get tired of reading about writing all the time. Besides, as writers, all information we pick up is fodder for the next book, so diversity is great!

  23. Misha says:

    Posts about art sound fun. ^_^

    I think sometimes the way art approaches good and evil has a lot to do with human psychology always leaping to conclusions that the beautiful people are the kind ones.

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