So Saturday TYG and I caught the M.C. Escher exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art. I’ve been an Escher fan ever since my mother bought a book of his work in my teens, and seeing them live—including most of the famous ones like “Relativity,” left (all rights to image with current holder) was an absolute blast.
Part of what makes Escher work for me is that so many of his images are weird at a fundamental gut-level. No dragons, no supernatural elements in “Relativity,” but having multiple different perspectives in one image is disturbing. Especially as it’s so matter-of-fact, with everyone in each orientation going about their daily business.
I keep thinking their should be a moral for writing in that. As I’ve mentioned before, I love stories that present the fantasy element as something fundamentally non-rational and impossible, rather than offering a rationalized magic. I think it’s very hard to be quite as effective with words as with imagery, but it can certainly be done.
Another factor that makes Escher work is the extraordinary detail of his work. The figures in “Relativity” don’t have faces, but they’re clearly going about ordinary, every day activities such as carrying trays, eating breakfast or walking together. In “Still Life With Street,” below (all rights to image with current holder), what holds my attention is not just the way the desk morphs into the street, but the details: the matches in the ashtray, the flowers in window boxes or on balconies, the laundry hanging in the street, the people below (one great thing about the exhibit is that all the pictures are large enough to see the details). It grounds the whole thing. And there’s definitely a lesson in that, though “add vivid detail to make your story real” isn’t an original insight.
Even without any writing insights, I’d have found the exhibit an absolute blast.