Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stories Within Art

I constantly wonder why some art pieces are endlessly fascinating and why others leave no impression at all? 

Why do some paintings entrance me time and time again? Why are other paintings, though skillfully crafted, totally unmemorable?

I recently saw an amazing art show at the Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu which solved my years of fretting. The show, Illustrating Modern Life, The Golden Age of American Illustration from the Kelly Collection, (see events tab) is one of the best exhibitions I've ever seen. And I'm a museum junkie, so that's saying something. 

The answer to my question - STORY!

The Customs Inspector by Elbert McGran Jackson for Collier's Weekly, March 1930
My take on the story: A handsome, brazen, brash customs inspector asks an attractive traveler if she's carrying any illegal food products in her trunk. She flashes him a winning smile, tightens her coat's waist belt to emphasize her figure and replies that she would never do such a thing. The inspector mistakes her action as a flirtation, instead of as the intended distraction, and requests to examine her baggage. She finds his determination irritating at first, but after he compliments her various shawls, shoes and accessories, she finds his self-deprecating lack of fashion knowledge to be charming. Then he finds her miniature bottle of illicit Absinthe, and gains an entirely new respect for the woman. He sincerely apologizes for having to abscond with her precious souvenir, but she only smiles and nods accent for she knows her pint sized bottle is still safely hidden in her jacket, resting on her waist belt.  

Waiting by Dean Cornwell for Cosmopolitan, Feb. 1921
My take on the story: She's just been sent out of the family drawing room. Her parents anticipate the arrival of her betrothed, an advantageous match that will insure money enough to preserve the magnificent manor house the parents intend to grow old in. However the daughter feels only duty bound to the forthcoming attachment and pleads for a miracle to save her. Her emotions match the staircase upon which she sits and a deep melancholy consumes her. Now she is merely waiting for her parents to call her in so she may be formally introduced to her future husband.  

If someone wrote a book that was described as, "Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey," this would be the cover art. 

Your challenge - Run with this idea! Leave a comment with a story for one of the below paintings. 

Wing Walkers by Harold Von Schmidt for Liberty Magazine, April 6, 1929

Florist by Joseph Christian Leyendecker for Kuppenheimer Style Book, Spring 1920


  1. The instant Dwayne's body hit the ground, the average I.Q. in the county rose two points.

  2. As he fell, he had just enough time to come to the conclusion that no girl was worth this...

  3. Harold always knew that he would be famous. He was the kind of child growing up that always got his way. It seemed that as soon as his mind conceived a wish, someone was there to fill it. Of course the fact that he was an only child of an over doting mother may have played in his certainty that all that he wanted was possible. So, when one of his friends from Yale invited him to take up wing walking, he was instantly smitten. Much as he had been when his dear friend introduced him to his love and hopefully future wife May. It was when his comrade found harold and May locked in a passionate embrace that his own plan was formed. And so on that fateful day, with much fan fair the men flew over a large crowd of wonder struck crowd. Everyone craning their necks to see this new miracle of the modern age. As the flew every higher his friend gestured Harold to go further out on the wing. Harold was in heaven. This was what he was made for. Just as he was congratulating himself and thinking of the effect his new hero status would have on May's adoring nature, his foot slipped, first one and then the other. it was a look of puzzled disbelief that last crossed his face as he tumbled through space, back to the world that had given him so much. As the plane landed and the crowd gathered around poor harold, his friend wiped off the remains of the oily substance which had been applied to that wind tip hours before. He tried not to smile as he comforted May. A grieving woman makes a pliant partner. And what of Harold? He got is wish, true to form. Falling from the sky and slamming back to earth does that for a man.

  4. OK, dear, so the little white petal here is the one that squirts poison gas. I'll seat your boss on one side of you and his wife on the other. As soon as they sit down, just give the white petal a tickle, and they'll never complain about another bunt cake again. Ooh, this is going to be the best dinner party EVER!

  5. Great idea. Wish I had time but off on a trip!

  6. I meant to tell you if you ever have a chance visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The first museum to blow me away, and I've been to Paris and Rome. Well, Rome kinda blew me away too...

  7. Lois & Poppy - Love your brief stories for Wing Walkers! Very funny!

  8. Chele - This is a fabulous story! I'm thinking of publishing an anthology of short stories inspired by paintings. Could I publish this? I'd send you a copy of the Anthology.

  9. Kris - This is so original and fun and totally not what I had in mind. It's brilliant! You're so out of the box - I love it!

    See comment above. Can I also publish this in the anthology?

  10. Julia - Thanks so much for the recommendation of the Amer. Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I've never even heard of it, so now I'm really excited. I just put it on my wish list. Huge thanks!

    Where is your trip taking you?

  11. Hey everyone! I posted a response to this prompt on my own website; check it out if you have a chance!

  12. Mr. Alistair patronized the flower shop far too often for a man, but his affluence afforded him more leeway than the usual bloke. The other shop girls didn't understand why the handsome, young Mr. Alistair repeatedly requested the least experienced girl in the shop, Lydia, to fashion his boutonnières. They spent countless break minutes trying to figure out what she had that they didn't, and they weren't ever kind with their conclusions.

    He would be coming in again this afternoon for his Opera flowers. Lydia knew a night at the opera would not necessarily require a boutonnière, but she thought it was dashing. She put all her limited florist knowledge into perfecting Mr. Alistair's tiny spring bouquet of pansies. A man who loved flowers, she reasoned, had a different way of looking at the world.

    She wouldn't admit it out loud, especially to the other shop girls who would ridicule her for having aspirations beyond her station, but she liked Mr. Alistair. She liked that a little bit of Lydia would accompany the dapper gentleman to the opera in her carefully crafted boutonnière.