Using Art to Inspire Writing

WordPress issued a writing challenge, Find a Muse in the Mastersthe last week of October 2014. The challenge was to choose a scenario (or invent your own) and write a poem, a short story, a vignette, a scene, or flash fiction based on Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.


 Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942.

WordPress gave some scenarios (examples below) for writers to use as prompts for their writing or participants could invent their own scenario to create a new piece.

Examples of Scenarios:

  • Blank slate: Choose one of the painting’s four subjects and write a new piece from their point of view. Give us their backstory: Where have they come from? What brought them to the restaurant so late at night, on this particular day?
  • The love triangle: The woman in red is dating the man she’s seated next to, but she’s secretly in love with the man with his back to us. Tell us a story from her perspective.
  • The sting: The soda jerk is a cover for a criminal mastermind. The man with his back to us is a G-Man about to make his arrest. Create a character sketch of the soda jerk, complete with the defining moment in his life that lead him to his secret life of crime.
  • Gender switch: All the men in this painting have just been magically transformed into women. The woman is now a man. What sort of story can you tell now?
  • Dialogue: Imagine a conversation between the four subjects of this painting. What are they talking about on this night in 1942? What sort of language do they use: formal? Slang?

I chose to invent my own scenario in my contribution, Haiku: The Wife. I decided to go with a fifth, unseen point of view.

This prompt was a great  writing activity that encouraged creativity, created writers’ choice, required historical thinking, and included art all while being explicitly focused on writing.

How Can This Be Used in the Classroom?

I’ve always loved the idea of using art to inspire writing. This writing challenge was awesome because it encouraged writers’ choice. I’ve listed some suggestions on ways to bring this blog assignment into the classroom.

1. Show students a famous piece of artwork, give a few scenarios to inspire writing, and/or encourage students to venture out and develop their own purpose for writing.


2. Create some scenarios as writing prompts or allow students to go out on their own. Remember, writing prompts aren’t just sentence or story starters; writing prompts are meant to inspire the writing process.

3. Give students time to write and share their work. Students who choose to do shorter pieces like poems or short stories could create a piece of artwork based on their story if they finish early.

4. Don’t forget that nonfiction is an option. Make sure you have access to the internet or informational resources available just in case students need to research.

5. Remember to share the background of the artwork and artist after the students produce their work. The purpose is of the artwork is to inspire the students’ writings not for the students to write about what is going on in the work or its intent.

Encouraging students’ creativity is a a great way to get them thinking deeply about content and the writing process. What are some ways you could use this technique in the classroom or in your own personal practice?

  •  Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux depicts the suffering of the Cherokee people under forced removal. More than 4,000 Cherokees died.
  • Chicken Hauling Flowers by Clementine Hunter. Mrs. Hunter was a self-taught, African-American folk artist from the Cane River region in Louisiana.
  • A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Wait For Me Daddy by Claude P. Dettloff is a photo taken on October 1, 1940, of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles) marching down Eighth Street at the Columbia Avenue intersection, New Westminster, Canada.

4 thoughts on “Using Art to Inspire Writing

  1. i dont know why but i could not see any of the images here? Mayb eit is my computer but i dont think so. I am another challenge person so wishing you luck, did you do this last year?

    • It could be that the slideshow required Java which I didn’t realize. I changed it. Thanks.

      This is my first year participating. I’ve only been blogging since April. I’m excited about NaBloPoMo!

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