Art History Inspires Creativity


I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I will be doing the challenge here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is A is for Art History Inspires Creativity.

Visiting a gallery, perusing a coffee table book filled with prints of paintings, or noticing a child’s drawing on the refrigerator, can be a wonderful way to get your creative juices flowing. Most people know that great works of art all have a story behind them (even if the story is made up). Writers can also be inspired by art to create their own stories.

By Johannes Vermeer – Museum page Info, Public Domain


The Girl with the Pearl Earring

Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer painted The Girl with the Pearl Earring (image on left) in 1665. In 1999, Tracy Chevalier wrote a historical fiction novel based on Vermeer and the girl in his painting. The painting and the book became even more popularized in the 2003 film, starring Scarlett Johansson, and the 2008 play, again both called, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Looking at the painting, it’s easy to how the portrait could cause one to imagine a story behind it.

Other Works

The Girl with the Pearl Earring isn’t the only piece of art behind novels and films. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a well-known fiction novel/film written about the Mona Lisa. Here’s a TED post about 10 such novels inspired by art.

By ThĂ©odore GĂ©ricault – Own work, Rama, Public Domain

Art can inspire you, as well. Visit a gallery or look at art in books or online. It won’t take long for one to grab you. When it does, allow your imagination to play for a while. It might be a portrait, like Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

Insane Woman

Insane Woman (image on right) is an 1822 oil on canvas painting by Théodore Géricault. He painted a series on the mentally ill. The painting is housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, France. One can imagine a lifetime of stories behind the woman’s eyes.

It may be a scene with several people, or a piece of modern art. Théodore Géricault, the same artist who painted the Insane Woman, painted a massive work called the Raft of the Medusa. This painting depicts an actual event in history. After ship called the Medusa, wrecked, there weren’t enough lifeboats, so survivors constructed a raft. Lifeboats towed the raft, filled with 150 people (all of lower class) behind them. The passengers on the lifeboats soon realized that the raft was slowing them down, and cut it loose. What happened on the raft after that was horrific. Here’s a short video clip from Khan Academy, telling more of the story.

The Power of Art

The ability to elicit empathy and imagination in the heart of the viewer is part of the power of art. I challenge you to explore a local museum. Bring along a notebook and allow your imagination to take over.

I wish to thank my daughter, Summer Erickson, and Art History Major at the University of Saint Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for her consultation on this post.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

My Family
The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! By commenting, you agree to the terms of my privacy policy.

11 comments on “Art History Inspires Creativity

I do like Dutch artists though they’re a bit dark. there is so much in each painting.

Hi Jacqui. I was in Holland about 6 years ago and the feeling of it is like a Dutch painting. It was spring and I was chilled to the bone. But everything was so beautiful.

Allowing others’ art to feed our own art making is so worthwhile, Heather. I took a one-day class once where we took the work of a master like Vermeer and made abstract art based on the piece. I was doubtful before starting the class, but soon saw that when you look at shapes and colour and mood, so much can be communicated without having any drawing skills at all.

Hi Karen. That sounds like a great class! There’s a similar method I’ve heard of for writing created by Andrew Pudewa. I’ve never done it, so I will probably muddle the description, but children were taught how to write well by copying the method of other writers, replacing the master’s words with their own. Eventually, you figure out why those great pieces of writing work so well and you can integrate it into your own writing. It is an interesting concept. As a writer, it feels a bit constricting, but it is effective. I can definitely see the value in doing this with visual art, and across various creative mediums. Have a great day!

Great topic for A! I love historical fiction and rnjoy it even more when it is about artists and/or authors!

What an interesting contrast between the two women in the paintings. It also bemuses me to think about why someone would paint an insane woman – I guess she’d be an interesting subject – I can’t imagine her sitting still for long while he painted though!

Leanne |
B for Believe in Yourself

Hi Leanne, There is a short explanation on the painting’s Wikipedia page of why ThĂ©odore GĂ©ricault did a series of paintings on the mentally ill. It doesn’t answer your excellent question about how he got her to sit still. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

Lovely post!
We had a course in the Storytelling program where I got my MA, taught by Dolores Hydock. She talked to us about how we can take inspiration from visual arts to make our storytelling better (and also more visual). Her main example was Norman Rockwell. I enjoyed that workshop immensely. 🙂

The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

Hi Tarkabarka,
Norman Rockwell’s art would be the perfect inspiration for stories. I always loved looking at the covers of the Saturday Evening Post as a young girl. I imagined the idyllic small town he had painted. What a great workshop!

Sandra Taylor

interesting isnt it how often when we stand in front of an art piece that we wonder/imagine a story behind it . I recently read kate forsyth “beauty in thorns” about the pre-raphaelites and it really struck me that the models used in their paintings are so well known to us visually and yet it is the artist we know and of the lifes of the models or even their name absolutely nothing.

Hi Sandra. I never thought about that. I guess it’s similar to classical music. We know the composers, but rarely the musicians that play their music so beautifully. Have a great day!

Comments are closed for this post !!