Jan 16, 2016 - Writer's Life    3 Comments

Pentaculum 2016 (Part 1): Artwork IS Work


Welcome to Arrowmont’s Pentaculum 2016, located in, but not part of, Gatlinburg, TN.

In the ceramicists’ studio, feel the sensuality of artwork created in clay, cool and waiting for the kiln. Watch a potter’s wheel spin through muddy fingers until a graceful vase or plate emerges. Hear the tapping of strong, tapered fingers shaping metal with tiny tools, squeezing exactly where that link should be closed for the coveted earrings or the silver chain.

Wander past long tables and dip a finger in paint, as men’s large hands work beside women’s smaller ones. All hold brushes that drip red, blue, orange, green, and yellow as they hand paint signs, an art that, sadly, may soon go the way of letter writing. Inhale the liquid color, turpentine, and sealant until you’re high on art.

In 2-D, men and women work pencils like wands. Behind the lead, intricate drawings follow. Fabric artists turn needle and thread into delicate beauty, pictures that move gracefully with the cloth. These fanciful illusions are fantastic to a kid who nearly failed the only thing she ever sewed, a straight waist apron in home economics. (Actually, I got a C.)

Photo by Darla Biel

Photo by Darla Biel

Then there are the writers, my pod, often invisible behind closed doors. Their heads are bent over desks, minds stretching, hearts breaking over ideas they recreate in paragraphs or lines. They pick through their brains for the perfect image: a peeled apple becomes a full moon; dryer sheets can never soften the blow of bad news. Lights glow on faces concentrated on screens. Fingers pause over notebooks, waiting. Writers’ hands that work to shape words into essays, stories, or poems fairly fly when they are “deep in the work.”

This “carnality,” as Mary Karr calls sensory detail in The Art of Memoir, is palpable on campus. To see with vision, touch with creative power, hear the pounding of hammers and hearts, feel the shapes becoming whole, listen to the stories and poems as they rise like Lazarus from alphabet to life–this is why we are here. We are here to make magic, and for every artist that means to work, and work hard.

Ordinarily a “neatnik,” by the third day my writing room made up of desk, chair, bed, a chest and closet, is wrecked. Clothes drape the backs of chairs and hang from half-open drawers. There’s a bag of snacks and coffee in the far corner. A hot pot to boil water for said coffee occupies an opposite corner on the floor. Books, computer, pens, notebooks and iPhone are scattered across the desk which I use as a table top. Power cords tangle beside my bed like snakes mating.

A “bed buddy” or “husband” is propped at the head of my unmade bed. More pillows surround that. I balance one on my lap as my desk. I hail from a long and honorable tradition of bed-writers, which includes Capote, Proust, Wordsworth and Edith Wharton.

Many of these authors were hesitant to admit they wrote in bed, horizontally, for fear people would think they were “lazy.” Ah, here’s the rub—this accusation is a lie with which all artists must come to terms. “How come you don’t work?” “Why can’t you______? You don’t have anything else to do!” Don’t you believe it. Ask them to write a short story, throw a pot, paint a watercolor. See how long even bad art takes.

Suzi Banks, writer, reading her work.

For those unfamiliar with artwork, do not be fooled into thinking this is simply play. This is not the third grade. We were invited to this Pentaculum to work. We work our art, often through creative drought and financially hard times, because we desire to be the best we can be at what we do. We continue despite the obstacles and doubts of others because we are passionate about the work. 

So my friends, when you get home, hang out your (handmade) sign:

Do not disturb. Artist at work.



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  • So glad to read you. Arrowmont sounds wonderful. Glad you share your experiences through words, I like how you write what you experience.

  • To my beloved next-door-writer, those were the quietest mating snakes! I had no idea! You urge me to write today, creaky self would rather organize the medicine chest and wipe the counters than raise the alphabet to life. But, you chugging churning furnace give me courage to blaze on. Word of the day from my prompt cards? Ingles: an open fire in a fireplace. That is what we are, open fires in the containers of our pages. All my love, S

  • Important post. Bravo.