for writers and readers….

Is there anything you can’t write about? ART FOR WRITERS


I’m guessing that most people have seen Claude Monet’s paintings of water lilies in his garden at Giverny, near Paris. He began painting them in 1899 and didn’t stop for the next 20 years. The images he created are on posters and make up bags, tablecloths and lighters. They have caught our collective imagination and their gentle colours have become part of our mental landscape.

This painting, however, comes from an earlier and darker period of his life. It is of his wife Camille Monet and she has just died a slow, painful death from cancer having been ill for two years with tuberculosis.  It is 1879, she is 32 years old and leaves behind two small sons and a grief-stricken husband burdened with terrible financial problems.

And what does he do? He paints her and even as he does so, he’s horrified that he can be so detached.

“I caught myself…searching for the succession, the arrangement of coloured graduations that death was imposing on her motionless face”

He called it an automatic reflex to observe (and record) colour.

Of course he is not the only artist to treat the death of someone they loved as another experience that deserved to be captured and explored. Rembrandt drew his beloved Saskia when she was dying. And writers also walk on dangerous ground.

American author Joan Didion wrote about the death of her husband in The Year of Magical Thinking and remembered her daughter’s life and death in Blue Nights.

In 2002 the great Irish author Edna O’Brien was castigated for writing In The Forest, a novel about a triple murder that shook Ireland eight years earlier. The relatives of the murder victims were horrified but she said that writers must be free to write about whatever they choose. There cannot be any subject that is out of bounds.

A review in The Independent called it a beautifully written memorial to the wanton destruction of the innocent, others suggested that it was too soon to delve into such a tragedy.

What do you think?
What wouldn’t you write about? Or read about?

It’s a question that has to be tackled by anyone who has thought about writing from their own experiences – even if their memoir doesn’t deal directly with death and loss – because if you write about your own life, you’re also writing about someone else’s life.

Each writer/artist has to work their way to towards their own answer to this difficult question and it may never be entirely satisfactory.


If you enjoyed this, there’s a pretty good chance you’d also like my writing guide Back to Creative Writing School. 100+ reviews on Amazon…just saying.
Amazon UK    Amazon US


7 comments on “Is there anything you can’t write about? ART FOR WRITERS

  1. Mira Prabhu
    November 17, 2017

    Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    The dispassionate genius of the great artist: “I caught myself…searching for the succession, the arrangement of coloured graduations that death was imposing on her motionless face” Read on!

  2. robbiesinspiration
    November 17, 2017

    I think that many of us write from our experience, Bridget. It is an emotional outlet and a way of dealing with pain and intense emotion.

    • bridget whelan
      November 19, 2017

      True, the act of writing can be therapeutic. As I said, I think there’s no one answer that is right for everyone but I personally feel that you shouldn’t censor your writing and that is especially true for anyone who is writing as a way of releasing complex and sometimes conflicting emotions. After it’s on the page you might decide who should see it – sometimes it be may for the author’s eyes only.

  3. ann perrin
    November 17, 2017

    I write poetry from my own experience as you know and am treading carefully with memoir. Sometimes check things out with those concerned. But did actually removed a poem from a book last year and replaced it!
    But I am not famous and its not my living!
    Think most artists experience a sense of detachment or they simply would not be able to do anything!
    But have always felt the Monet story was horrific! Not the painting so much as the longer term desertion and utter selfishness! But just love Giverny and those waterlilies…two faced bitch that I am!

    • bridget whelan
      November 19, 2017

      Big question – can you love the art if the artist was dispicable. We are working that one our right now: the comedian who showed the world how men exploited women was exploiting less powerful female colleagues in his own particular way, the film maker, the actor…it goes on. Abuse as an exercise of power taints everything the abuser touches… Not sure Monet falls into that catogary. Artist models were pretty badly treated, Monet was unusal in marrying Camille but I don’t think their life together can have been very happy. Poverty and ill health saw to that and then there was Monet’s attitude.

  4. Tom Gould
    November 28, 2017

    Hi Bridget

    I may have completely got the wrong end of the stick here but this picture gave me some inspiration for a poem. Thanks you very much because I had been desperately trying to think of something to write and this gave me something of a prompt.

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