Using ‘Pregnant Moment’ Artworks as a Stimulus for Creative Writing.
Firstly, let’s establish what an artistic ‘pregnant moment’ is – it’s a defining, critical moment; a significant, frozen moment in time which invites the viewer to ask a multitude of questions such as,
What led this to happen?
What will happen after this moment?
Why has this moment occurred?
Douglas Wolk described the ‘pregnant moment’ accurately in his book ‘Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work And What They Mean’ (2007) *1
…the moment from which time radiates in both directions suggesting what’s happened before it and what’s about to happen after it
Put simply it’s a seemingly static moment which the viewer makes dynamic through their piqued curiosity and imagination.
I’ve been aware of both literary and artistic ‘pregnant moments’ for many years but a recent visit to the Lichtenstein retrospective at the Tate Modern (21 Feb 2013- 23 May 2013) led me to consider how well ‘pregnant moment’ artworks might function as a stimulus for story writing.
Lichtenstein was a master of the ‘pregnant moment’, carefully selecting and reworking images from popular comics of the time such as ‘All American Men Of War’. His 1965 painting ‘M-Maybe’ is a perfect example as is ‘Whaam’ (A painting from 1963 which I first met in 1975!) And today, with a simple search in Google Images hundreds of such works by Lichtenstein are accessible in moments.
Once an example has been chosen it should merely be shown to the class/group along with questions such as,
Who is this?/ Who are they?
What happened before this moment?
What made him/her say those words?
What will happen next?
How might the story begin?
How might the story end?
This approach has many benefits. It encourages both close observation and also careful consideration of artworks. The ensuing story cannot be written without both of these processes occurring.
Lichtenstein provides a perfect starting point for this kind of writing as the comic book style will be familiar (and non-threatening!) to many pupils.
Similar opportunities afford themselves if we choose other artists. One of my favourites is Ron Embleton. Although Embleton may not be as familiar name as Lichtenstein, readers of a ‘certain age’ will certainly be familiar with Gerry Anderson’s 1960s TV series Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons. Embleton was the artist responsible for the ten end-credit paintings depicting Captain Scarlet in various perilous ‘pregnant moments’.
These paintings seared their way into my imagination as a child (so much so that I bid on an original at Christies some years ago. I failed to secure the work but if anyone hears of any which are being resold please email email@example.com) and now they are readily available on the website http://www.seven-wonders.co.uk/scarlet.html
These ‘pregnant moments’ are like keys which free the imagination of the viewer. You can’t help but be curious; you can’t help but fill in the gaps.
Although an exhaustive list of artists who utilise visual critical moments as part of their oeuvre is beyond the scope of this essay I would recommend two further personal favourites: Edward Hopper and Carol Weight.
Hopper is a well known American artist and Weight is a much less well known British one but both are worthy of consideration and many of their paintings would work equally well as starting points for narrative writing.
A logical extension would be the provision of a range of comics in the classroom from which the pupils select their own critical images. Comics actually function as a nexus for both literary and artistic ‘pregnant moments’.The written and the visual are inextricably bound together and the most successful comic panels are superb stimulus material for story writing.
Alan Peat, April 2013
(I would be very keen to hear from teachers using these ideas in class. I’d also be keen to hear of other artists whose work could provide a useful starting point for writing)