Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Art Date/'Hot' Objects:

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A Paris Arcade's Ceiling

I let loose my UT Screenwriting Class to do an 'Art(ist) Date' and thought I'd share the exercise with you. An Art (ist) Date is something we can do to access the unique emotional truth/authenticity of projects/scenes/stories (i.e. artwork) on which we are working. It helps as we build these literary structures, lay the beams and raise high the roof beams, Carpenter (if you know what I'm saying).

An Art Date is a purposeful and conscientious hunt for the objects (e.g. things, smells, music, sounds, dialogues, etc.) around which our emotional lives collect. It means 'going out' but not necessarily outside. Altho' artists have known and used this technique for eons, neuroscience has now demonstrated this process. Think of these 'objects' as emotion magnets. You'll know when you hit on one because you will begin to feel (your breathing might change, your throat might catch, you might lose your train of thought, etc.) and story/narrative may begin to unspool.
N.B. The object never has to appear in your work (e.g. the Degas painting 'Melancholy' I showed you in class, never appears in my novel). It is there for you to access to maintain visceral contact with your/the emotional truth in your work.

If you're a bit like me, then you may be always looking for new ways into the writing that we are doing. An 'Art Date" is one way to access a particular emotional authenticity that only will be accessed through you. I'll bet that if I asked you to think of some scene/experience from your life that there would be some sound, some object, some smell , some somthing that zaps you right back into that scene. When you think of that object, you are then immersed into the emotional/psychological/physical authenticity of that moment/experience.

Last Friday, I actually took myself out purposefully for an 'art date'. I've been writing a section in the novel I'm working on that includes some police officers. Now, I can get what the inside of police cruiser looks like, the monitors and all of that from Google or TV or whatever. But there has been some element of emotional truth/authenticity missing for me in these pieces of my work.

Knowing that 'Art Dates' have worked for me over the years, I got ahold of Toronto Police Services, got cleared and approved to ride around with them for a few hours. It took some doing, it didn't happen overnight. I didn't know if anything would come of it in terms of fleshing out the emotional truth, but knowing that my emotional equipment will latch onto objects, etc. I did the date. It's a risk but....

The long and short of it is that I did find objects in between the crevasses of the seats in the cruiser that I never, ever would have anticipated sitting at my desk. I knew, as banal as the object was, that it was a 'hot' object for me because immediately one character in particular started going off in my imagination about this object.

To wit, it released an emotional truth/authenticity for me. Maybe you would have gotten in that cruiser and something else (e.g. the walkie talkies, the radio, the rolling crime blotter, etc.) would have triggered your emotional mechanism. Maybe nothing would. Fair enough. If that's the case, probably the wrong date for that particular emotional truth/authenticity truth. I don't know if that object in the cruiser will show up in the work literally. But the emotions that have coalesced around it sure will.

'Hot' objects are one of an infinite variety of ways into truth. My whole recent trip to Paris & Berlin was a glorified, two-month long 'Art Date'. Take yourself on one, see what you find. Here's to deepening, cheers.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Thom Vernon

Thom Vernon has worked in film, television and theatre since 1989. He has been the Actors’ Gang Youth Education Program director and has worked as an arts educator at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. The Drifts (Coach House Books) is his first novel.

Go to Thom Vernon’s Author Page