Writing with the Masters: Louise Bourgeois

By: Jennifer Fiorile

Louise Bourgeois, a fantastic abstract minimalist sculptor who lived to 99 years old, believed she was a painter, until the 1930s, when an art instructor of hers, Fernand Léger, looked at her paintings and told her that she was actually a sculptor. She went on to have a long, successful, and prolific career. Her sculptures vary greatly and widely, most distinctly in size and material. Her tallest sculpture is a large spider called Maman, which is 30 feet tall (over 9 metres) but many of her smallest works can be set all on a table together. Her materials include bronze, latex, wood, resin, plastic, wax, marble, cork, plaster, found objects, and cloth. Bourgeois mostly expressed the same themes, emotions, and memories through different materials.

      Bourgeois’ work is very much influenced by her life (though her work is plenty enjoyable without knowing those details) and she worked through memories of her parents, her feelings toward to herself, and sexuality through her work. She would test out a sculpture with different materials until she found one that properly captured and expressed what was in her mind. For Bourgeois, sculpture was just as much as about shape as it was about the look and feel of a piece.

      So, how can we transfer this concept into our writing (and our art)? You may have a particular memory or experience that you feel you need to express. You typical means of expressing yourself might be through poetry, essays, painting, or songwriting. What we can learn from Bourgeois is to experiment with material and medium. A long essay might be more accurate to what you want to say in a poem, and vice versa for a long poem that could use more explanation. A song might instead make a beautiful painting. Or a short poem could be turned into a dance. There’s no need to feel restricted to one way of doing things because surprising things can be discovered about yourself, your inner world, and your creativity when you give them a different vehicle by which to come out of your mind and soul.

        This is part of the creative process. In order to bring a piece to its final stage, sifting it through different writing and creative methods will give you a much clearer, more refined result. This is not only beneficial for you but also for those taking in your work (through reading, looking, listening, watching). While creative work doesn’t need to hold the hand of the viewer and tell them precisely what they should see or feel, we want our work to engage the reader, to interest them. Even if they can’t understand exactly what they’re looking at or reading, they might like it based on a gut feeling. Working through various creative and refining processes with a particular piece will help you produce work with a message, a thought, or a feeling that your viewers and readers can receive with total clarity.

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