Artistic Communion

Ben Greenman reflects on his decision to use Amy Bennett’s painting “Salute to Water Bodies” for the cover of his new book:

Many of Amy’s paintings made sense to me as extensions of my novel—or maybe it was my novel that was an extension of her paintings — but one struck me as particularly appropriate. It was a vertical painting in which a house, seen from overhead, seemed stuck precariously to its foundation, as if it might slip away at any moment. This worked as a pun, and also as a thematic echo. She identified the perspective as literary and even a bit self-deceiving: “The bird’s eye view is one I keep coming back to. In fact, I think my next series will be mostly done from that perspective. To me it’s like an omniscient narrator. It gives all of the information with a somewhat detached coolness, as if it is undisputed fact.” A little later on, she made another observation about her own work that also seemed to directly address mine: “Often it is the relationship between characters, rather than individual characters, that I am interested in depicting. …

So what does it mean for a novel and a painting to share the same interests? They exist in different kinds of spaces. They are perceived (and possessed) differently by audiences. They are forced to jump through different kinds of hoops to attain critical notice. Can they truly be fraternal twins? I had been building a case, but I started to doubt my own motives. Maybe I was trying to anchor my work in another artist’s work to keep it from disappearing — from slipping away. And yet, in the end, my time with Amy’s work, which followed close upon the heels of my time with my own, had done exactly what I hoped for: it had returned me to some of the basic questions that I had set out to explore, and then shown me that it was not possible to spend too much time inside the inquiry without bumping into another explorer. It’s not fellowship, exactly, but a strong sense of being alone together, which seems like a good way of describing the creative impulse.