The Fusion of Art and Story – How Ekphrastic Exercises Teach Art Appreciation

Written by: Guest contributor Tori Smith, a sophomore at Ball State University studying journalism

As a child, Lorette Luzajic recalls asking her mother to stay at the library for the day instead of attending a birthday party. She sat in the library, fascinated by all the works of literature around her, especially biographies. She learned about Vincent Van Gogh, mesmerized that he continued to make art throughout his hospitalization in a mental asylum.

“I romanticized the stories of the artists,” said Luzajic, a Canada-based artist. “I created this world about me with like-spirits. They were creative and experienced things that I did. These people created things regardless of their dark side.”

Luzajic grew up immersed in writing, literature and art. She wanted a more practical way to showcase her creativity, so she earned a degree in journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto in 2000. Although Luzajic enjoyed the creativity of journalism, she didn’t enjoy the pressures.

“You don’t have 10 months to finish a project. It’s due tomorrow,” she said. “But since I was there, I had to finish. I already paid. But I thought I would become an artist instead.”

Lorette Luzajic photographed by Moshe Sakal

Luzajic explored creative ways to blend writing and art and learned about “ekphrasis,” or the verbal representation of a real or fictitious text composed in a non-verbal sign system. Traditional ekphrasis includes three elements: A scene or story (fictitious or real), a representation of that scene or story in visual form (painting, photograph, carving, sculpture, film, dance, music), and a rendering of that representation in poetic language.

Although Luzajic agrees that examining art through ekphrasis is fun, it brings the creative a sense of community.

“This approach takes you to people who live in a whole different culture; it brings you into communion with both you doing something divine,” Luzajic said. “Even though it’s you thinking about yourself and your own experience, you’re tapping in with the artist.”

Luzajic says the process of ekphrasis can happen through music, art and literature.

“You can connect at any time, not just while writing.” Luzajic said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a hymn or a Katy Perry song, something strikes you. You don’t think of it at the time, but it’s art magic.”

How Ball State uses ekphrasis to teach art appreciation

Elizabeth Dalton, a professor of honors humanities at Ball State, teaches ekphrastic exercises in her classes. Dalton specializes in Western humanities, with a focus on visual and literature arts.

One of the ekphrastic exercises she assigns requires students to write a response to a piece of art on view in the David Owsley Museum of Art.

“My goal is for them to get into the art,” Dalton said. “I want them to know it’s for them. Not only the hoity-toity people. They are perfectly capable of understanding what’s going on in the museum.”

Dalton instructs her students to go to DOMA and sit with an object for a specified amount of time. Then, they must create a work of ekphrasis after the experience.

“I don’t care what they write,” said Dalton, who specializes in Western humanities, with a focus on visual and literary arts. “I just want them to have an access point to the object.”

Sophomore Hannah Allen has been in two of Dalton’s classes that engaged in ekphrasis work.

“She was the first professor who introduced it to me,” Allen said. “She tells you to go, sit down and look at a piece of art, but not the label. It’s very therapeutic.”

Allen said that it’s a different writing exercise that she normally wouldn’t do in her other classes.

“Researching can be very analytical, and you don’t get to appreciate the art that much,” Allen said. “This way, you think about your feelings. You deal with what it is more than what it physically is.”

Allen recalls two classmates who explored the same piece of artwork with different outcomes” “It was interesting because the two people looked at it in different contexts,” she said. “One looked at it mythologically, and the other looked at relations of what the love in the piece might have in relation to today’s pieces.”

Although ekphrastic writing and artwork may be new to many, it’s developed quite a following – in part due to Luzajic.

Shortly after graduating, Luzajic created a small zine with a few colleagues. Although it was fun, it was very disorganized, Luzajic said. The journal was called Idea Factory, but there’s not a lot of money involved with running a journal.

“I’ve always loved working with journals or start-ups,” she said. “I got a taste of being able to call artists and writers. I really enjoyed that community.”

Luzajic worked as an artist after graduating and still does today. But in 2015, she was missing the community of an online journal. So, she created a second, more organized online journal to showcase ekphrastic works, titled the Ekphrastic Review.

The journal started in July 2015.

“I didn’t think I was going to start a journal, but to have a place where I can print something or maybe just see if other people write this kind of stuff,” Luzajic said. “It was like having a portal in my mind where I would put what I loved out there.”

Fast forward seven years, and the Ekphrastic Review has a readership of 4,000-8,000 a month.

Luzajic contributes 80 volunteer hours a month toward the journal, which offers workshops, contests and a podcast. Luzajic said she had 900 submissions in her email inbox waiting to be reviewed.

“I want people to feel free to participate, this is a community.” she said. “This is not for me, this is your work, it saves your life. It brings joy to the world. It’s for spreading the word.”

The Ekphrastic Review accepts ekphrastic small fiction, flash fiction, micro fiction, prose, poetry, hybrid forms, book reviews, author interviews and profiles.

Luzajic agrees with Allen that ekphrasis is therapeutic.

“It gives you an outlet,” she said. “It helps you recognize the small beauties of the day as it does the dramatic storms.”

Luzajic says that ekphrastic writing can be particularly helpful when switching your thoughts to something you’re not thinking about.

“As soon as you ponder something, you’re putting your focus there,” she added. “All things that swirl in your brain will come to the paper.”

Although Luzajic receives an incredible amount of submissions, she’s only able to publish about 5% of them due to the selective process.

“For one exercise, we received 50 to 300 submissions for one painting,” Luzajic said. “Those are all taken for just one work of art. It boggles my mind.”

Luzajic can’t believe the quality of writing the journal receives, she said.

“I love all poetry. But, something like alchemy happens. They do even better work when this inspiration happens,” said Luzajic. “It’s extraordinary work. It’s magical.”

If you’re interesting in reading or submitting ekphrastic work, visit https://www.ekphrastic.net/.

As always, thank you for reading the DOMA Insider! DOMA is free and open to the public; we are open Tuesday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Check out our website at https://www.bsu.edu/doma.

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