Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Making Big, Messy Art

Post by our blog team member, Susan Vittitow Mark

I have just returned from a road trip to Minnesota, a bit west of Minneapolis. It truly was the Land of Lake Wobegon, and I came back stuffed to the gills with wedding cake. We weren't even to Pine Bluffs when we noticed this car.

On closer look.... the situation became curioser and curioser.

And a final parting shot. I'm particularly enamored with the baby doll head. At least it's watching the road. Everyone else was watching this car.

Whoever created this wasn't afraid to make big messy art out of what they had at hand. It reminded me of the exhibits I saw when I visited the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Unlike other art museums, the AVAM made me want to make things. In exhibit after exhibit, the artists weren’t afraid to create according to their own vision from the materials they had at hand -- paper plates, bottle caps, lawn ornaments and bits of mirror.
I felt as if I could do that. Not in the sense of doing it as well, but throwing caution to the wind and making big, messy art from whatever I had. Or, more accurately, big, messy writing.
On the Minnesota trip, I collected three pages of oddball things that struck me. Among them:
  • A bird struck me, literally. Dead center of the windshield at 75 MPH.
  • Eating a wooze-inducing early lunch of pretzels, diet coke and a butterscotch shake purchased in the Ice Cream Capital of the World.
  • Crops soggy with standing water, where last year there was drought.
  • Tree leaves awash in the Minnesota River, trunks buried in water, water well outside its banks.
  • Birds swarming the feeders at a rest stop.
  • Bad radio music. Lots of it.

As my husband drove, I collected these just as the car artist must have collected toothpaste tubes and baby doll heads. What will I do with these? I might use one as a writing prompt. Maybe a character would develop oddball diet quirks or have a deep love of birds. I could write of a farmer at the mercy of increasingly erratic weather. Swollen rivers might make a nice place detail. Songs on the radio could help place a story in a specific time period.

As I collect parts and pieces, they work their way into stories as a collage of details that make stories more alive and real.
So go collect your toothpaste tubes and make some big, messy art. That’s what I plan to do.


Jenny said...

That car is really something. Just think of the kind of character who would drive a car like that! I like how you collected bits of your trip for later use. You never know when they will inspire you!

Lynn said...

What's that saying... one man's trash? That sure is a treasurey car you found!

I'm a big fan of found snippets like yours. Plenty to lead you down the literary road. Thanks for the inspiration!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Susan -- glad to see you've joined the Writing Bug team.

I'll bet the person who created that car is quirky and interesting. Would be fun to find out...

Deborah Nielsen said...

It's called an Art Car. Art Cars are a whole 'nother car culture. Each year there's a big Art Car parade and festival in Houston in early May. It's quite a spectacle!

I wonder how the owner cemented all that stuff on so that it wouldn't blow off going down the road? And how he or she came up with, um, the theme. There's got to be a story there.

At least your drive wasn't totally lacking in interest!

Rhonda Blackhurst said...

I'm headed to Minnesota on the 20th of this month for my nephew's wedding. All of my family still lives there so I go back once or twice a year. You've got me wanting to look for fun and "odd" things along the way. :)

Michael Shay said...

Great column, Susan, and I love the photos of the "Art Car." Big Messy Art -- that's the best kind.

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