Writer-Artist 9: Tess Callahan
“The constraints we rail against may be the very ones we need.”
A short story writer and essayist whose work has appeared in such prestigious venues as AGNI, Narrative Magazine, and the New York Times Magazine, Tess Callahan’s widely praised, multiply translated, debut novel April and Oliver was declared by The Boston Globe to place her “in the delicious tradition of Jane Austen.”
Her Creative Life on Canvas
She began her creative life as an art student and she credits artist Roy Kinzer, her painting teacher, with painting instruction that ended up being the best writing lessons she’s gotten. “Roy taught me to work the whole canvas at once, to step back and squint, and relate one color to another across distances—lessons that seeped into my writing process.
“Now, when stuck on a particular phrase, I reread the chapter, letting the larger organism deliver the words I need. Roy taught me to stay loose, work fast, and give the work its own volition rather than impose mine.”
She cites a documentary of Picasso that “reveals his ruthless nonattachment to preconceived ideas,” obliterating one image to put it “in the service of what it wants to be.” That, says Callahan, “is the kind of artistic honesty I strive for when I write. “
Creating Under Pressure
Like the geniuses of OULIPO who insist on a creativity born out of constraints, Callahan recognizes their everyday utility in her own art. She points to this lovely portrait sketch, noting that it was produced under most inhospitable conditions:
“I was late for class, with little room to set up my easel, and ten minutes left on the pose. There was nothing to do but dive in. In art and in life, the constraints of time and circumstance we rail against are often the very ones we need.”
To find out more, check out The Writer’s Brush: Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture by Writers for more than 400 plates of artwork by great writers and the stories behind them.
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