Doubly Gifted

A witty foreword by John Updike (whose own drawings are included in the volume) is followed by a useful introduction by the author that discusses the many ways in which a writer’s artwork can highlight his literary achievement. The amateur status of the art permits the writer to be less guarded, to express himself without straining for perfection.

Nevertheless, in many cases the art is astonishingly good. Often the writer takes his artwork very seriously. T. S. Eliot studied under a professional artist. Charlotte Bronte ruined her eyesight by copying intricate engravings. E. E. Cummings, who exhibited his drawings and paintings, called himself “an author of pictures, a draughtsman of words.”

Whatever the motivation--relaxation, discipline, or therapy--a writer’s artwork can contribute to literary growth. The young William Faulkner drew airplanes inside his textbook covers. When he later became a flyer for the RAF in Canada in World War I, he covered his flight manuals with sketches of fellow cadets. After the war, he produced illustrations for the University of Mississippi magazine and yearbook. As a struggling writer in New Orleans, he found work illustrating fine hand-printed texts. He collaborated with Sherwood Anderson on a volume of caricatures and later returned to “Ole Miss” as art editor of the literary magazine. His career in art strengthened his talents as a humorist, and humor was to become central to his future literary statement.

Finally, no generalizations about the connections between art and writing can do justice to the infinite variety and suggestiveness of the art itself. Edgar Allan Poe’s portraits, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s nature studies, Henrik Ibsen’s seascapes, D. H. Lawrence’s stunning allegories, G. K. Chesterton’s caricatures, Hart Crane’s moody oils-- whether crude or polished, all these works of art resonate with the genius of the writers who created them.