Writing + Art: The Sounds of Silence

Paintings are silent, but they often express big ideas, such as peace or hope, sorrow or excitement, aggression or compromise. But what do these “big ideas” look like?

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986)
Series I—No. 3, 1918
Oil on board
20 × 16 in. (50.8 × 40.64 cm)
Gift of Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation and the Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation M1997.192
Photo credit: Larry Sanders
© Milwaukee Art Museum

Pick an entirely abstract painting, which has no reference to figures or scenes.


Let your imagination wander as your eyes travel over every part of the painting. Follow the painting’s energy. Rest where it rests. Probe where it probes. What feelings does it suggest? What colors and kinds of lines did the artist use to communicate these feelings? What words correspond to these lines, colors, and feelings?


Write freely; don’t worry about making full sentences or even full words. You don’t have to analyze the painting or tell a story. Just write. Let your language roam where you feel the painting has roamed.


Now that you’ve given voice to the silent painting, read your piece aloud.