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A collaboration of arts

BY EMMA McCLATCHEY | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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The word “creative” is ascribed to a range of artists, from painters and sculptors to poets, fictions writers, essayists, and actors. But perhaps the best expression of creativity results when these artists fuse their talents.

At least, that’s the idea of Art Speaks, an event that teams up art and literary students.

“There’s a rich history of artists and writers collaborating,” said Julia Jessen, a cofounder of Art Speaks. “In history, you can see both groups inspired by each other. Writing and art are both art forms, so it’s nice to combine them and let them play off each other.”

The first ever Art Speaks exhibit will be presented at 7 p.m. today in the Art Library of the University of Iowa’s Art Building West. Six works of art by UI students will be on display, while the five pieces of writing inspired by the art (plus Abby Tang will read a poem inspired The Daily Iowan’s Haley Nelson’s graphic art piece Seen and Unseen) will be read. Refreshments will also be served, and visitors will have to the chance to speak with the undergraduate artists and writers about their visual and verbal collaboration.

Art Speaks is hosted by earthwords, the UI’s undergraduate literary magazine. With earthwords’s 34-year history publishing the best of UI student writing, Arts Editors Julia Jessen and Claire Diver created the Art Speaks project as a way to put greater emphasis to their visual-arts section.

“Both art and writing are so subjective, which makes it interesting,” Jessen said. “Anytime you’re bouncing ideas off one another is really beneficial, and broadens horizons.”

Jessen, a former employee of The Daily Iowan, and Diver accepted nominations for student artists considered “serious about their art,” as well as “top-tier” student writers. These 12 selectees were paired off at random and tasked with choosing the six featured pieces of art — from paintings and drawings to a ceramics sculpture — to begin writing poems, short stories, and essays to complement these works.

“As an artist, I like to hear what other people interpret [my work] as,” said Andrea Jackson, whose acrylic painting Hill After Rain inspired Meghan Dunlay’s written work. “I put my ideas in it, but the second I show it to someone, I know my ideas are gone. It makes the art piece living to me.”

Lauren Linahon said she shares these feelings of anxiety and excitement when letting others analyze her work, including her Art Speaks piece Sleeping Figures. She said the two-piece ceramic sculpture represents the disconnect she feels when she’s awake versus the relaxation of sleep — themes she communicated with her writing partner Jared Zimmerline.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how he interprets it,” Linahon said. “The art show becomes this performance piece that the audience can become a part of. I’m always nervous when I expose a bit of my personality to other people, but I’m also really excited to see how people respond to it.”

Zimmerline, who will present a poem depiction of Linahon’s sculpture, said Art Speaks helps both artists and writers broaden the scope of their “imaginative” media.

“Because of events such as this, fans of art and language alike can come together and see the correlations between the two and how we use them to communicate human nature,” he wrote in an email.

For Jackson, Art Speaks was worth participating in purely for the chance to collaborate with someone outside of the UI’s art programs.

“In the art school, we get so absorbed with other artists we forget to leave the school,” she said. “Art Speaks give you the opportunity to do that with writers.”

The Art Speaks exhibit opened this week on the heels of a paradigm shift at earthwords. For the first time in the magazine’s history, the staff decided this year’s “editors’ choice” — the submission they consider to be “the best of the best ”— would not be a piece of writing, but a work of art.

Still, Art Speaks participants said the exhibit isn’t about highlighting the differences between visual and written art forms but the way these creative expressions interact.

“I think people feel a division between the different kinds of arts,” Linahon said. “Communication among the disciplines shows there’s a camaraderie rather than a divide. We should all just get together and do something.”


Art Speaks exhibit reception

When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Art Building West Art Library
Admission: Free


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