Creative Writing Classes Get Inspired by the Cleveland Museum of Art

By Rachel Pavelich.

In late February, Mr. Hemery and Ms. Leatherman’s creative writing classes took a field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art. While there, the students were taken on a tour throughout the current exhibits.

After lunch in one of the classrooms at the museum, students were allowed to roam freely throughout the museum to write poetry inspired by the artwork that they saw. Nearly an hour and a half was spent walking around, finding paintings and sculptures that spoke to the students.

“My favorite part was definitely settling down on the floor with my pencil and paper, gazing up at the art in front of me,” said Kate Altany, a junior.

Just before this trip, students were assigned a poetry project in class. The project required students to find a painting online that was then used to write a poem about a social change issue. These are called ekphrastic poems — poems that are inspired by art.

I had the privilege of going on this trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I found that seeing the work of artists can motivate a writer to create their own art in the form of poetry.

This assignment gave students a practice round of writing poems based on art, but some students in the class found that trying to find a piece of art to write about was a bit challenging.

“I’ve been inspired by music and dance before, but never painting,” said Altany. As for how she felt about creating a poem based on art, she said, “It’s definitely nice to have a clear visual for what you’re writing about, but it can be dizzying to look at something someone [has] already created and try to grasp your own interpretation of it.”

“It was definitely harder than anything I’ve done,” said senior Fatimah Elghazawi. “But as a writer, I think it is very important to get out of your comfort zone and to try something you’ve never done. Challenge makes you a better writer, and I think this trip truly helped me learn not only all about the various artworks, but more about myself and what my writing entails.”

Senior Alli Hall added, “Using art as inspiration made it easier for me because it gave me a topic and it gave me a direction.”

Although she did not have much experience writing based off of art before the field trip, Alli said that she thinks she will use art to write in the future.

“My favorite part of the trip was definitely being able to walk through the galleries with a sense of direction,” said senior Alli Hall. “When I’ve gone in the past, I felt so overwhelmed by the beautiful work, and I didn’t know how to properly admire it. But with the task at hand of writing a poem, I knew what I should be looking for, and I felt like I was looking at the art with fresh eyes.”

The tour that was given by guides at the museum gave students more information about some of the pieces in the museum, such as when and where they were created, and how they came to Cleveland’s museum.

“I learned a lot about how the collective style of art changed over the years,” Hall said.

“One of the things I realized was just how many layers there are to art. Writing and painting are two different things, but the bond they can share is undeniable,” Elghazawi said. “It challenged me in the way that I had to stick to a single piece to write one poem, and that’s usually really hard for me since my writing tends to be covering vast areas. It was tough, but the outcome was rewarding.”

“I love all of Renoir’s paintings, and I was so happy to see some in person,” added Altany.

“I think every work I saw inspired me in a different way,” said Elghazawi. “There’s no possible way I could pick a favorite because each piece I saw stood out to me for a different reason. It was so amazing to be able to take the time to actually absorb myself in the paintings I wrote about rather than simply glancing at them. It was an experience I’ve never had, and I’m really glad I had the opportunity to take this trip.”

While the students got to spend most of the school day exploring the museum, there was still some artwork that they did not get the chance to write about. For me, I felt inspired by so many pieces as I walked by them, but there was not time to write about all of them. Therefore, I had to choose the ones that I felt most called to write about and hope that sometime I can go back and write about the ones I missed.

“I’d love to take a trip back to the museum to check out the exhibits I missed,” Altany said.

For Hall, paintings by Van Gogh were the most inspirational, but out of all the work she saw, “Water Lilies” by Monet was her favorite. Altany found her favorite painting to be one called “View of Florence.”

“I love Realism and the Impressionists,” she said. “[They] are such different styles but I admire the skill both types of painters had.”

The creative writing classes are in charge of the school’s literary magazine, Inkwell. As well as determining which submitted works go in, the students themselves must also submit poetry. Some students chose to submit poems that they wrote at the museum during the field trip, like I did.

“Getting to take part in Inkwell is so much fun, and it makes me look forward to hopefully taking part in literary magazines when I go off to college. It’s a great time,” Elghazawi said.

The class spends the first quarter focused on poetry and the second on fiction. Creative Writing is an elective and is open to all sophomores, juniors, and seniors to take. Next year, Creative Writing II will also be offered for those (like myself!) who enjoy the first semester-long class so much that they hope to continue on.

“I’d like to pursue writing in college, and creative writing is one of my favorite pastimes,” said Altany about why she chose to take creative writing.

“It’s by far my favorite elective, and although I may find certain works challenging, the payoff at the end is undeniable. I recommend everyone takes this class; it makes you such a better writer,” said Elghazawi.

“Honestly I took this class because I needed another credit,” said Hall. “I’ve never been one for creative writing because I need structure, but I’m slowly learning to love it. I don’t regret taking this class at all.”

“I’ve wanted to take creative writing ever since my freshman year, and I was finally able to fit it into my schedule this year!” Elghazawi added. “I’ve loved to write from a young age, and I plan on majoring in English in college, which entails a lot of writing. I wanted to take a class that would really allow me to craft my work better, and a class that would expose me to more forms of writing than what I’ve done in the past. I also wanted to be able to hear thoughts from my peers on my writing since I believe that sort of connection to your audience is very important.”

The trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art was a great experience for myself and my classmates because it gave us the opportunity to explore the museum, which I had never been to, while also using our imagination and creativity to write about what we saw.

“I wanted to do something different, so the artwork that didn’t have people featured inspired me the most,” said Hall.

“The museum is such a great place to spend a day walking through,” said Altany. “There’s a piece of art for everyone’s tastes.”