Sometimes the weather just calls you to snuggle in with your words. Other days it makes you restless and invites you to adventure.

Sometimes you get lucky and get to do both!

On such a day, my dear friend Ruth Benander, an English professor at the University of Cincinnati, invited me to join her at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM). There, we played a writing game she had cooked up.

Ruth Benander’s Genre Cards

Ruth had prepared 12 genre cards.

We then jointly selected a work of art, and each drew a genre card to inform the style of our individual fast writes.

Ruth (Wearing Cool Shoes) Offering the Genre Cards

We stood around like loons scribbling in our notebooks and scrutinizing the piece of art for about 20 minutes. Writing our tales through the lens of a specific genre was so engaging. It was also intriguing to wonder what genre the other person had drawn and how they were approaching their story for the same artwork. We did fast writes on four pieces of art and then shared our stories, and delight, over wine in the museum cafe.

Let me share the works of art we selected and the genres we drew for each. Also, I will share one fast write dyad for your enjoyment.

Plaque, 1900, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, Copper Electroplated on Tin, Semi-precious Stones, CAM

Plaque Fastwrite Genres

Ruth: Science Fiction
Amy: Dystopia

Landscape in Westphalia,1853, Thomas Worthington Whittedge, Oil on Canvas, CAM

Landscape in Westphalia Fastwrite Genres

Ruth: Fairytale
Amy: Crime

Still Life with Glass and Lemon, 1911, Pablo Picasso, Oil on Canvas, CAM

Still Life with Glass and Lemon Fastwrite Genres

Ruth: Paranormal Romance
Amy: Gothic

Sideboard, c. 1865, Mitchell & Rammelsberg Furniture Co., White Oak, Marble, Horn, and Mirrors, CAM

Sideboard Fastwrites

Ruth: Comedy

My husband got this godawful piece of a Baroque mountain he said was a “sideboard”.  Sideboard? This chunk of furniture would never be on the side of anything! It was a main event of carved wooden fruit, evil little putti glaring out of their tiny empty wooden eyes, a marble top that contributed to half of the ton the behemoth weighed, and topped off by a huge wooden pointy carved deer head, mounted as a trophy at the perfect height to hang a hat and then poke out an eye as you went to retrieve your hat.
Jack, the aforementioned husband, had pulled up in the rusty pickup we used for hay, shouting, “Look what I got for a song at Heitman’s! He said if I could move it, I could have it.”  I considered the folly of this project, but Jack was so happy, I figured I ought to try to be happy, too. I called up to Jack, “So do you want me to get a drill so we can put a tap in that counter? I’m guessing we could get a keg into that cupboard thing, maybe two.”
“Yeah,” agreed Jack, “But I damn near put an eye out on those antlers. Could you get some tennis balls to put on the pointy bits? I reckon we’ll need about eight.”  Oh, yeah, I thought, a baroque sideboard kegerator decorated with tennis balls. This was surely going to be a piece for Country Living Magazine.

Amy: Magical Realism

The sideboard had been with Sarah’s line for over a hundred years. Its dark wood and white marble weighed more than the invading armies and looters could carry away. Which was how her family had kept possession in these dark times.
The heirloom bore the frustration of those who had coveted it. Carvings of bountiful fruit and flowers were scarred with pocket knife graffiti, and the caryatids supporting the marble counter were now faceless. The glass from the two oval mirrors under the top shelf had long been smashed and carried away.
Still, the empty sockets sometimes reflected vital information that might cause the ruin of the invaders.
Sarah saw herself folding a letter and slipping it into the mouth of the carved stag whose mighty horns crowned the sideboard. The scene shifted to the high mountain pass above the snow-blanketed fields of her farm.
She well knew how to get through that pass when the winter had closed all other roads.
She turned from the vision, reaching for paper and quill. The stag would send her letter to the right hands.

Final Thoughts

Are you curious about who chose which artworks? Amy was drawn to three-dimensional objects that were created by Cincinnatians in choosing the plaque and the sideboard. Ruth took to oil on canvas from very different schools of artistic expression.

We have story dyads for all four artworks. If you would be interested in seeing a particular one we didn’t show here, request it in the comment section below, and I will make it a blog post.