Inspired by An Image | StoryADay 2024 Day 23

It’s the highest form of flattery

day 23 cover

The Prompt

Choose one of these photos and tell a story based on it
Winslow Homer – Metropolitan Museum Gift of Mrs. William F. Milton, 1923
Paul Cézanne – Metropolitan Museum Bequest of Stephen C. Clark, 1960
Léon Bonnat – Metropolitan Museum Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887

Things To Consider

Using inspiration from other artists is a time-honored tradition (and helpful when it comes to marketing your version: fans of the original will be interested, whether they love or hate it!)

Images are helpful prompts for short stories because they capture a moment.

Your story can build up to or away from this moment (or both, placing the picture’s scene smack-dab in the middle of your story)

You do not need to honor the artist’s original inspiration for the story.

You can totally ignore the title of the picture. You can transpose these characters into a totally different setting (useful if you like to write futuristic or fantasy stories).

No matter what you choose to ignore, consider what is interesting about the moment captured in the picture.

Why did you pick this one? What stories does it suggest?

You might choose to give your story the same kind of mood suggested by the art style and color choices.

Further Reading

A StoryADay prompt about pictures (with video lesson)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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19 thoughts on “Inspired by An Image | StoryADay 2024 Day 23”

  1. Well, well, well, look who picked up a new skill today! I wrote a story based on the Cezanne Card Players and just looking at the picture gave me all kinds of descriptive material that I would usually skip over in my writing. I ‘forced’ myself to use things like their hats, their body language, their pipes, all the things Cezanne had to try to do, without words.

    You guys, it made it so much easier! I’m going to be pulling up pictures of situations and places while I write from now on!!

    (As you can tell, descriptive writing isn’t really my thang…)

    I talked about it in this Check In: https://storyaday.org/words-pictures/

  2. In the Homer painting, I recognized that the swimmers were wearing old school swim attire. But to a modern eye, it looks like they went swimming in their regular clothes. And I thought to myself, “Why would people do that?”

    It’s graduation season right now, so maybe that’s why my mind went straight to, “Senior tradition!” So a secondary school in my fantasy universe now has a tradition where the graduating seniors take a boat a short ways off shore, hold hands, and jump into the ocean to symbolize leaping into the future. (The school briefly tried to ban it for sounding dangerous, but became convinced the better approach was to make it an official graduation week activity so thye could verify things like “Everyone CAN swim that far in their clothes, right?” and “There are professional lifeguards monitoring this, yes?” Because, let’s face it, the kids were going to do it anyway.)

    Being short on time, I went with a script for the story, focusing on dialog with minimal stage direction. I’ve never written anything longer than a one act and it’s been decades since I did that, so I was surprised in a few places over how difficult it can be to convey what’s happening sticking just to what people are saying. I’m not sure I wound up saving time after all.

    The story ended sweetly and I may rewrite it as prose later. Will probably cut a lot of lines when I do or it will be too long; there are multiple sections of exchanges that could easily be skipping in favor of briefer action. For example, there’s a lot of bickering that could easily be replaced with glaring.

    Even if I don’t revise it, this is going to be a nice shared history to reference at some point.

    1. This has nothing to do with craft, but you may enjoy it. And it does relate to your “tradition.”

      My great-grandfather was what is known as a “weighty Friend” – a Quaker leader, in a religion that does not recognize leadership. My grandfather was a young child when his mother took the family for a picnic on a lake in Maine. His father had been on a business trip to Boston with another Quaker, and they rowed out to join the family. My grandfather saw his father stand up in the rowboat – something he knew you should never do. Then he jumped in, in his woolen business suit, and swam to shore.

      His father’s friend had said, “I’ll give the quarter, if thee jumps in as thee are.”

  3. The brainstorm exercise in the Handbook rocketed me directly into a draft of the story (thanks, Julie!). I picked the Roman Girl at a Fountain (third painting). Something about the quality of the light really grabbed me. I wrote a fantasy piece about someone noticing that this little sipping cutie is Fae. It ended up being about xenophobia. 400 words, and done!

  4. I wrote not quite three hundred words, not quite a story either, about the Cézanne. Actually, about two Cézannes. He had a habit of painting the same picture over and over (and over), and the version of The Card Players at the Barnes is probably the first. It has an additional character: a small boy, standing to stage right of the card player facing us. In my story, based on the version at the Metropolitan, the card player (Paul) wonders where the little boy has gone. The boy had been invisible to the others, and whispered the contents of their hands to Paul.

    And just for fun, I gave all the card players the first names of post-impressionists.

    Poetry written from a work of visual art is called “ekphrastic.” Theoretically the word can also be applied to prose, but I’ve never seen that usage. Whatever you call it, I have never been able to produce anything good that way, but it’s always fun to try.

    1. I love the premise. And chuckling over the detail about naming the players for post-impressionists made me disturb my cat. 🙂

    1. Nice story, Teresa. I liked the way you toyed without and developed the characters. I liked the resolution part as wells, as the boy got saved and all was well with the world.
      Keep it up and stay happy.
      Best wishes.

  5. What a sad story. I am glad that the ending was bittersweet. Les finally moved on and was happy again. Losing his family had to be so hard for him to bear, and the fact that he alone survived made it harder for him.

  6. Eagle Head
    “The thing for you to remember,” concluded Professor Basu,“ is to focus on the values that you are trying to impart to the viewer through your painting.You are much like a story-writer in this respect. While a story-writer uses words for this purpose, a painter conveys it through the deft, subtle touches of his brush. His works assume more significance therefore, as more often than not, ordinary viewers fail to comprehend the underlying messages in his paintings.. ”

    “Sir,” Simran couldn’t help asking him while rolling the chart from the desk and putting it back in her side bag along with the brushes of different shapes and sizes.
    “Sir, can you tell us something about “Eagle Head” in this context?”
    “You’re spot on in mentioning the 19th Century American painter, Winslow Homer’s “Eagle Head” here.” the handsome, bearded Professor in colourful kurta-churidar, replied.

    He knew that when it came to intelligence, the girl was much above her other classmates. At the same time there was no guaranteeing that she wasn’t trying to test his knowledge.

    “Homer often explored in his paintings, women’s roles in society like their new-found sense of purpose in life and leisure. When it was exhibited in New York in 1870 for the first time, the painting aroused a lot of interest. Critics were confused by the sense of mystery hovering over the entire picture.

    I don’t want to tell you more about it now but try visiting as an art student, this colossal building, actually there are two, popularly known as the Museum in New York, if you can,”
    And with that Professor Bose raised his hand to signal the end of the class.

    As Simran came out of the Artful Impact Classroom, she found herself still pondering over Professor Basu’s words.

    “That’s a nice question you asked me, dear.”

    Simran was literally jolted by the sight of Professor Basu coming from behind, on his way to the car parking.

    “Sir, can I tell you something?” She asked her favourite teacher. And finding him nodding at her endearingly, she chimed shyly:

    “The day I happen to witness “Eagle Head”, I’ll call you from no matter where I happen to be, to share my feelings with you.”

    “Most welcome, dear.” Prof. Basu patted her fondly on the head before expressing rapturously, “I’ve my doubt though, whether I’ll be around…”

    Now, standing before the painting after almost two decades, she recollects Professor Basu’s words.

    “This 66×96.5 CM extraordinary painting was gifted to the Museum by one Mrs William F. Milton in 1920 …” Lisa, their elegantly dressed Tour Guide in a black suit with her identification card hanging from a loopy tape around her neck, cuts into her thoughts just then by venturing to provide more details of the intricate painting.

    Simran though has stopped paying her any attention as she looks up to the painting.

    The locale was a sea beach, somewhere in Manchester, Massachusetts, as it was reflected in glittering letters at the bottom. A part of the blue sea under an equally. bright blue sky was captured masterfully in the canvass. Crystal white, surfy waves lapping against the beach and the gray-green mountain in the corner, could be seen at the background.

    But what really made Simran breathless were the three women in the picture – the most striking looking of them, bending slightly in the centre, had her golden hair all over her face, falling forward. She seemed to be drying her hair with the corner of what looked more like a Tibetan dress at first.
    Only at a second glance, does she realise that the women were in bathing suits prevalent in the late 19th century.
    The second woman, much older and heftier, had her hair tucked under a matching black cap with her back to the viewer. Dressed in completely black, she had the dress held in place by what looked like a cloth belt around her waist.
    The third capped lady, was the only one sitting with her right leg stretched angularly forward and the left bent at the knee, thrown over the other. In an ash-coloured, high-necked shirt, she was the youngest of the three and had her face with those large eyes, turned towards the woman in the centre.
    The time was, probably, late afternoon as the shadows of the two characters fell across the sands.

    “My God!” Simran exclaims, much taken as she is by the raw charm and beauty of the picture.

    She takes a step forward next, intrigued by the shadows of the two women on her left, but actually on the right of the frame. The shadows got inter-mingled somehow.There was a small dog looking threateningly, with its front legs spread out. Whether the dog felt threatened by the dripping lady – her dress raised up to her knees, or the mingled shadow on the sands, was hard to tell.

    She looks closely at the bizarre entertwined shadow of the two women. The shadow along with the black, barking dog cast a kind of disquietude, mystery over the entire scenario!
    What did Professor Basu tell them in the Value class?

    “Try looking with your mind’s eye for the values hidden beneath the painting…”

    What was Harold trying to impart to the viewer apparently through such a simple painting?
    The painting couldn’t be all that simple, she thinks to herself. There has to be some hidden meaning underneath.

    Let me start with the doggie first. Black, is the colour of evil and the small size of the dog suggests that some insignificant, evil people would bark at your doings, intentions, no matter what they are.
    Good! There are three women of varying ages representing women in general.
    The vast, blue skies represent the broader world, signifying that the nineteenth century women were finally beginning to assert themselves, finding their places under the sun.
    But what about the shadows? Simran asks herself. There is something sinister, something devilish about the shadows. The shadows as if hint at some impending or lurking danger!
    Was Homer trying to convey that Women emancipation would come at a high price? And why is the elderly woman completely in black?

    “I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit to the Museum today. It is nearly 5 by my watch and time to get back to the bus. Our next stoppage will be ….’

    Simran is not listening any more. Professor Basu, when she calls him from the hotel tonight, after all these years, will be mighty impressed.

    Back in the hotel room, she has hardly flicked to one of the Indian news channels, when she cups her mouth with her hand. What a coincidence! Think of Prof. Basu, and there is his photo on the TV screen!
    The newscaster is heard saying :
    Noted artist and educator, Professor Jyotirmoy Basu, breathed his last at his Central Kolkata residence at around 2.45 PM today. Professor Basu has been ailing for long. His cremation….
    The end

    1. I really enjoyed this one, Rathin. My favorite part started with “The painting can’t be all that simple.” Then she gives meanings to the things in the painting, then questions things in it. Her professor has taught her she needs to read paintings as if they are stories; so great. This must have taken a lot of time and thought for you to write, and it’s clear and concise the way you wrote it.

  7. I am not a visual person(just ask my beta readers how often I need to be reminded to add description because I don’t “see” things in my head), so I always struggle with image prompts. So, I kind of cheated. I didn’t really use any of the paintings, instead I wrote about someone who doesn’t “get” art. These lines made me laugh as I wrote them:

    “Sure, they look nice. But, I still don’t see the big deal.”
    “They tell a story,” Matt insisted. 
    “So do books, and those I can actually understand.”

    100 words(actually was 104, so I decided to trim it to drabble-length).

    1. Hi Fallon, I like this idea. I feel sorry for people who aren’t interested in art or don’t get it.

  8. *I chose the Winslow Homer painting because of what looks like a ruffled family at the beach. I immediately thought of a tsunami.

    The tsunami had not been expected. It swept onto the beach, continued inland for miles, until it destroyed the cottage where they were staying on their vacation. The cottage Les had rented for his wife, two children, and their dog. He himself had been a few miles further in, buying food to make sandwiches for lunch, and his family was playing at the ocean when it happened.

    Les had been working overtime to afford the trip with his family. His wife Isa was very excited to make the trip to the Philippines to visit her parents. They had never met Les and their grandchildren, and a big party had been planned during the time they were to visit.

    Before they left on their trip, Les had secretly hired a tutor to teach him the language to impress his wife once they arrived at their vacation spot. It hadn’t helped much. He had never been very good at learning languages.

    The children, Nate, 8, and Jasmine, 4, had made gifts to present to the grandparents, and had refused to share what they had concocted with their parents because it was a surprise, but they had been confiscated by airline employees before they had a chance to board their plane. The kids had sewn holders. Nate’s was filled with things like a little screwdriver and other things he thought his grandpa could probably use. Jasmine’s, which Nate had helped her sew, contained manicure supplies for Grandma. There was crying when airport personnel confiscated the contents of the things in the hand-sewn holders, but they recuperated when their parents took them shopping for new items.

    As it happened, this would be the last time Isa’s parents got to see her and the children. Les had to be heavily sedated for the trip home.

    He bought a dog as soon as he could handle getting out of bed again. It was a good dog and quickly learned how to behave. Les qualified to keep Sweetie (that’s what he named him) with him at all times. He thought about taking the dog to the beach to toss balls for him to catch but couldn’t find the courage to do that.

    Les met a woman from the grief group he attended and married her a few years later. They had two children, twin boys. They traveled often to the Philippines to visit Isa’s parents who were always glad to see them. The last time they were in the Philippines their boys, now aged four, had begged them to take them to the beach. The ocean was very beautiful, and the waves were gentle. Les felt the spirit of his lost family there.

    *Before writing this, I decided to write a “last paragraph” but use it for the first paragraph. Later I realized it wouldn’t have worked for the last paragraph, but I was ok with that because I managed to end the story with Les at the beach. So, it begins and ends at the beach. 415 words.

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