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Writing Art

If you're struggling for writing inspiration, one great way to get creative fires burning is by engaging with other art forms. This could take the form of a creative reflection on a favourite art work, or an ekphrastic poem or prose piece. Ekphrasis is the practice of relating to a particular art form using another. An ekphrastic poem, then, would be a poem that relates to another piece of art (such as painting or sculpture). 

There are lots of ways to go about this, and there aren't really any rules to say what your ekphrastic poem or prose piece needs to look or sound like. However, it might be useful to look at some examples. 

Juan Felipe Herrera's poem, Radiante (s) responds to a painting by Olga Albizu, exploring the vivid oranges, yellows and blacks that form unstructured shapes. 

Sylvia Legris' poem, Studies of an Ox's Heart, c. 1511-13 engages with anatomical sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, exploring the visceral materiality of the picture's subject. 

Only a Shadow, by Carmen Giménez Smith, responds to a photograph by Muriel Hasbun from her Saints and Shadows (Santos y sombras) series, giving a poetic voice to the figure in the picture. 

Elena Karina Byrne's poem, Vertigo, is a poetic response to the right triptych panel of Hieronymus Bosch's 'The Garden of Earthly Delights,' exploring the painting's strange and violent imagery. 


To do this exercise, you will need to find a piece of art to respond to. You can work with a painting or sculpture that you already know well, or you can look for something new to engage with.  

Why not browse through some of the online collections of well-known galleries? The National Gallery has a range of highlights and virtual tours available on their website. Check out The Met for primers, timelines and audioguides. The British Museum has gallery tours and collection searches. Or check out The Louvre's artwork of the day. Begin by finding a painting, sculpture or photograph that you'd like to respond to, and use it to help you write an ekphrastic poem or prose piece. 

Here are some pointers you might want to think about when writing your ekphrastic poem or prose piece. 

--You'll want to do more than simply describe what's going on in the art work, but perhaps begin at the level of the visual. Explore the colours and textures; areas of movement and tension; light and shadow; use of space. Notice the points to which your eyes are drawn. Think about why you are drawn there. 

--To go beyond simple description, consider and reflect upon how the art work makes you feel. What does it make you think of? Does it spark any memories? What mood does it put you in? How do you respond to it in the body? 

--If the art work includes human (or non-human) figures, consider giving them a poetic voice, if it feels appropriate to do so. What might they say if they could speak? Who might they be speaking to? Maybe there is a figure in the background who might have something interesting to say. Experiment with giving voice to different elements of the art work. 

--Remember that your ekphrastic writing doesn't necessarily have to stay with the art work. The art work is just the starting point. You can stray wherever your thinking takes you. Don't be afraid to let the writing get a little bit weird. It might even help to imagine that you are 'painting' or 'sculpting' with language, while you are writing. 

If you'd like to share the results of your writing exercise on this site, or simply share your experiences with ekphrastic writing, email your work to


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