• Kirsten Johnston

It’s all in the detail – sometimes

I am currently editing some creative writing. It is an extensive story and is requiring quite a degree of input from me. The job has needed some extensive thought about many aspects of creation, particularly the places of detail and generality (if that’s even a word!) in the progression of a piece.

My prose-writing friends may correct me, and I certainly ask them to do that if I’m off the mark. It seems to me, though, that both detail and generality have their place in writing and, more, are both essential for a quality piece of prose. It is a question of balance, however. A narrative needs just the right amount of each and in the right place. I imagine that is one of the skills of the adept writer – to be able to pinpoint when the reader needs to know the actions, thoughts, words, feelings, body language and idiosyncrasies of a character; the qualities, layout, appearance, sounds or atmosphere of a setting and the boldness, nuances or twists and turns of the plot. Conversely, there are times when information can be alluded to, mentioned in passing or omitted entirely. There needs to be some credit given to the reader for their ability to fill in gaps, to draw conclusions and to manage the ride with both its specifics and surges.

And it is the same in painting, I am reminded, with its detail and generality, specifics and surges. Both intensity of information and places for the viewer to rest and develop their own response make up balance in the work. As in writing, it is those judgment calls – where to put those areas, how many, how often, how close together – that are mastered by the skilled practitioner. Broad brushstrokes, quite literally, can be vital but so can the fine lines and subtle changes in colour, the small shapes and individual points of interest. Detail draws the eye, generality frees the soul. Both are required.

As I go to paint today I will need to assess and make decisions about composition. I will need to deal with the elements that tell the visual story. The art of literature and the visual version have a lot to teach each other.

Until later, Kirsten

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