Saint Agatha and the Writing Prompt

Today, we did a fantastic a bunch of projects in my docent training class. No surprise, my absolute favorite was a writing exercise, designed to help students think creatively and use critical thinking ability by observing the art. Basically, we, the docents, provide a prompt – the one we used in class today was “I had the strangest dream…” – and the students then pick a piece of artwork in the gallery space. Then they have about 10 minutes to write the draft of a short story.

It sounds easy, but between the time limit, the number of options you have to work with, and the viewers own ability to find narrative in images, it can get really tricky.

We were in the 17th Century gallery, which as anyone who’s visited can tell you, has entirely too many pieces to choose from. Initially, I wanted to write about the painting of Judith and Holofernes that’s hung near the center of the room, but I couldn’t narrow down a concept enough to get it done in 10 minutes. Instead, I picked a much smaller painting done by one of the Carravagists (because God knows I’m a sucker for chiaroscuro and tenebrism). It’s Saint Agatha Attended by Saint Peter and an Angel in Prison by Alessandro Turchi (this will be on the test) and if you click on the picture, it should link you to the Walters website with more information about the painting and the story of Saint Agatha.

If you're a good Christian, Saint Peter will miraculously regrow YOUR boobs, too!

It was a fantastic project and everyone in my group really enjoyed doing and sharing with one another. Seeing as how I really love this idea – telling stories through art was a big part of how my mom got me interested in classical art to begin with – I’m thinking this might just become a side project for me. In addition to writing flash fiction when I’m feeling stuck on Nevermore, I may just start writing stories about the artwork I see in the museum every week. This will also push me to see the narrative potential in everything as I write about objects like statuettes and artifacts as well as paintings.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that’s a very stingy estimate.

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About Morgan Maria D'Isidoro

Morgan Maria D'Isidoro has lived in Baltimore, MD for most of her life, saving a handful of failed escape attempts. Given the murder rates, she'll probably die here too. Morgan is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry, a musician of dubious quality, cat aficionado, art history fangirl, kitchen sorceress, recovering pyromaniac, accomplished liar, and an all around person of questionable employability.
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