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Can an artist be an author and vice versa?

Recently the above topic was debated over in a discussion forum of art and literature enthusiasts. The question was - Is there a conflict between the thinking process of an artist and an author? If not, why had there been hardly a few people in history successful as artist and author at the same time?

The transcript of the discussion is as follows -


Nilanjana Roy (An artist and literature enthusiast) - Probably because visual artists go by the adage, "a picture is worth a thousand words", and authors are happy to paint an imaginary (or not so imaginary) world solely weaving words. So, why wield a brush?


Asijit Dutta (Literary enthusiast and academician) - I don't think they need to. And why to prioritize at all one expression over another? A painter paints, a writer writes. Also, I think it's about immersion. Once you are inside one medium, the others turn vague, frosty, if not obscure and sometimes even useless.


Saikat Baksi (Author and art critique) - True. But is painting (let's say, we consider painters) opposed to writing? Why one should turn the other vague? Nilanjana says some point that makes sense.


Nilanjana Roy (An artist and literature enthusiast) - I think it is all about comfort level and acquired skill on a particular mode of expression.


Mainak Sengupta (An academician and an expert of genetics as well as a literary enthusiast) - I would like to differ a bit in this and opine that an artist often is found to express his/her ideas in pen and paper too, especially later in his/her life. I thought if one is capable of expressing, he/she can do both or at least capable of doing both. Now, art having some technicalities associated with it, often assigns the back seat to an author.


Nilanjana Roy (An artist and literature enthusiast) - People, who understand a medium well, might not necessarily be skilled to actually perform it. Else we shall not have critics in the art world or testers in the IT world. Understanding is perhaps a huge part of art but acquired skill gives one the confidence to express ideas in that medium.


Asijit Dutta (Literary enthusiast and academician) - I think we are seeing things very differently. The writer paints as much as a painter writes. And what do we say about Tagore then, who paints, writes, creates music...


Mainak Sengupta (An academician and an expert of genetics as well as a literary enthusiast) And not only Rabindranath....

Abanindranath Thakur too

Marx had an absolute fascination for aesthetics and arts.


Saikat Baksi (Author and art critique) - I completely agree. But you see, if you read the documented write ups or books by artists, you will find they end up making it extremely wordy and abstract in the end. Whereas the same thing explained by an author is much lucid. Tagore is an exception. Same was Picasso an exception who spoke extremely well.


Saranya Ganguly (Artist and literature enthusiast) - Authors paint with words, artists write with colors.


Saikat Baksi (Author and art critique) - Did Marx paint?


Mainak Sengupta (An academician and an expert of genetics as well as a literary enthusiast) Discussions between Marx and Engels on aesthetics and arts show the depth in their understanding. Another important example would be Adolf Hitler. He was a painter pre first world war. And we know how good he spoke.

Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx

Saikat Baksi (Author and art critique) - There is no question about understanding of art or literature. Most artists were inspired by literature and vice versa. The point is, who did both in real terms. And Hitler definitely didn't understand the nuances of art's true spirit. He just was a skilled craftsman. What Hitler painted was pure landscape in realistic way. Art had moved into modern time already by then. This is the reason he didn't get a buyer and we had the second World war. On the other hand, Tagore, in my view, was way ahead of his brothers and the time. At the time of no Google or WhatsApp, he straight painted such expressionist images those were being painted simultaneously in the west! A quantum jump. Tagore was an exception.

Hitler's painting

Aadrit Banerjee (A student of English Literature) - To say there is a conflict between the thinking processes is a bit problematic. Every individual thinks in a specific way. These diverse ways should not be compared. The question is about the difference between the ways the thought is expressed. I believe, the choice of the medium through which the choice is expressed is determined by the psychology of expression. And this choice is greatly political. I wouldn't quote the cliched examples of Tagore, or Van Gogh who blur the lines and challenge the legitimacy of the question raised, but as an amateur painter-writer myself, I think when I choose a medium, it depends on how I want to present my thought. And that choice is political. For example: now that I look back and consider it in the light of this question, I realize that I had chosen the medium of words to speak about Kyiv and present Ukraine conflict, but as for my voice on Covid, I did it through my canvas. This is determined by the process through which a particular incident affects me, and how I choose to come to terms with it.


Arpan Krishna Deb (Physicist and publisher) - The questions has some scope of objectivity in its answer through scientific explorations. There is an excellent paper by Dalhia W. Zaidel which makes an interesting statement. In paraphrase it says that in lieu of language deficit the brain develops more ways of communication, visual art being one. This can hence be logically taken ahead in understanding why some visual artists don't find the words easy for them to use. Another paper by Rebecca Chamberlain et.al. (published in Neurolmage) did sophisticated neural mapping of the brain to claim how visual artists have a different structure of the right side of the brain. But both papers do specify instances where one can develop both skills simultaneously over time, along with the innate abilities in respective areas. The great names that you all have already discussed are of course glorious exceptions. It is perhaps impossible to cite them to make a comment on general population. Being a school teacher, it is important for me to acknowledge the lack of one (or both in many cases) skill in students and in my experience with all kinds of students, I have seen that, beyond a point, such an emphasis to develop both skills become a deterrent to learning either one.


Saikat Baksi (Author and art critique) - Reading all your views, I feel like sharing another angle. This realization of mine comes out of the root that in my younger days I wrote poems and later turned into a novelist. When someone is a poet or an artist, the demand from the mind is different from when one is a novelist or a non-fiction writer. In the first case, it's quite an abstract blast of emotion or a cloud of feelings that sweeps through the person. It's not exactly a premeditated act. It's a spontaneous flow. But for a fiction of non fiction writer, the conceptual stage may be spontaneous but the implementation stage is more of a product of a scheming and at times criminal mind too. It requires detailed planning and deliberation over long periods. It's never abrupt. So...the two mindsets are entirely different. It's possible that one may choose different modes to let out different kinds of emotions as Aadrit said.






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