“October” by Annie Dillard

In The Maytrees, Annie Dillard wrote,

She herself hoped to paint, soberly, when she got old.

In 2009, a week before I headed to Provincetown, I read in The Provincetown Banner that, at the age of 64, Annie Dillard was doing just that. Although she usually painted between books, now she was giving up writing for painting. After arriving in P-town, I visited the gallery where her work was being shown and brought home this small painting. It hangs in my study. With a slight turn of my head to the left, I can see it. Called “October,” it’s the view from Pleasant Point Town Landing.

There’s a line that connects writers and painters. In August I wrote about writer James Baldwin crediting painter Beauford Delaney with teaching him how to see and how to trust what he saw. Henri Matisse wrote often about painting. (Matisse on Art by Jack Flam). With “The Dance” at The Barnes Foundation, Matisse gave the viewer only part of the picture to free him to imagine so much more. As writers, we want to give the reader this same freedom. We want to suggest what lies beyond the page. Robert Boswell writes brilliantly about this half-known world we’re trying to create.

Maureen Doallas also wrote about Annie Dillard’s move to painting at her blog Writing Without Words. On Annie Dillard’s website, you can see more of her work, and you can also purchase limited edition prints with the proceeds going to Partners in Health.

16 thoughts on “october

  1. I had no idea Annie Dillard painted. Her paintings are beautiful, just like her writing.

    Recently, I read “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri after I saw his work at the Phoenix Art Museum. I highly recommend it. It’s about painting, which I don’t do, but I found so many applications to writing (and being!).

    I also love the Boswell essay “Half-Known World” and the concept of suggesting what lies beyond the page. I just finished a wonderful online workshop with Robin Black and Shannon Cain. Robin gave some wise advice about my story, to leave a bit of my characters’ future unknown. She said “The story might contain whispers of that future in it.” I think of the paintings I love, they always have that element of the unknown, that freedom to imagine what happens next.

    Thanks for this blog entry. You always inspire me. 🙂


  2. Thanks, Darrelyn. When I finish writing a post, I add the links, and this morning, when I googled “Annie Dillard and painting” to see what was out there, I was delighted to find Maureen’s post.


  3. I like her writing better than her painting, but I can understand the appeal of having a painting of a special place by a favorite author. It’s curious that she quit writing to paint, as I believe doing both together is symbiotic. One is more left brain and the other more right brain. It’s a full mental work out.

    I used to paint more than I wrote, and now I write more than I paint. I couldn’t give up either entirely. In Maine it’s nice to get outside during the few warm months and writing suits the rest of the year. Photography I can do year round. I never thought I’d be a published photographer before a published author (if ever), but that’s how it is working out. It’s nice to have 2 careers as it takes off the pressure. How lucky Dillard is to have succeeded at both!


  4. Thanks, Teresa : ) And how lucky you are to work with Robin. I love what she said about a story containing “whispers of the future.” I’ll check out Henri’s The Art Spirit–wonderful title.


  5. That’s a lovely painting. Having read Dillard’s An American Childhood, I can understand her return to painting, especially since writing was such hard work, if not torture, for her. I keep thinking of her story of how she spent 10 years on The Maytrees and cut 1,000 pages! She announced her retirement as a writer after that.


  6. I am hoping that her announcement was rash and hysterical, caused by noxious fumes while washing her brushes in solvent. If not, The Maytrees certainly serves as a painterly legacy that will stand the test of reader devotion.


  7. I love this painting, Sarah, and knowing she created it is magical–almost like her words got up off the page and began to dance.

    I also like how with “our” photo stories, the visual and the written words play off each other–creating something else in the process.


  8. i so appreciate the timing of this post—you have no idea. i really thought i was losing my mind.

    i mean i have always ‘appreciated’ art. like it. enjoyed it. respected the craft. famous or not. my father and brother are mega-talented artists. neither have kept it up as they have pursued other creative efforts, but i grew up around it. yet, i never took to drawing or painting because well, i have always written, even if never ‘seriously’ as i am now.

    but thanks to twitter and retweets, the artists i have discovered and connected with, i am telling you, their influence of art in my work in progress manuscript (not just the tuesday’s stories i post and still sundays that i write) has just been unprecedented and unexpected. so much so that i thought i was going mad until i read your post given this desire to paint!

    so thank you for this ever so much.

    immense gratitude,



  9. Annie, thanks for such a lovely comment. I love the connection between writers and painters. Walt Pascoe is primarily a visual artist, but I love the way he writes. Sarah Laurence (who commented above) is primarily a writer (at least at the moment), but she paints beautifully. I think you would enjoy her website and blog. And Robin Black paints too. I also think you would love Matisse on Art–there’s a link in the post. I’m sure an appreciation and awareness of each of the two arts adds depth to whichever one you’re engaging in. Enjoy!


  10. I think many writers get their inspiration from other art forms. Hemingway often credited the great painters and musicians with teaching him how to write. I know whenever I go to a museum, or attend a concert, or read a book it makes me want to create something as a result of a feeling or idea that emerges from it.

    That painting is so beautiful. Great post!


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