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Art + Lit provokes discussion at the Lighthouse

Photo // Sarai Nissan


On Feb. 3, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop hosted their monthly Art + Lit session featuring CU Denver Assistant Professor of Art History Yang Wang and local writer Alison Alexander.

Andrea Dupris, the director of the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop, teamed up with the Art Student League to deliver these Art + Lit discussions. “Both organizations operate under the idea that things go better in our community when art is being created,” Dupris said, at the beginning of the discussion. These discussions seek to accentuate the fact that every great piece of literature can be matched with an equally great work of visual art.

Every session of Art + Lit marries art across multiple mediums. The Lighthouse invited two speakers, a writer and an artist, to discuss the importance of each work, as well as the differences and intersections between the two. The audience is encouraged (although not required) to read the book and review the visual art piece prior to each program and to engage in the discussion during the question and answers session after the discussion. 

“The two pieces of art work together really well and create synergies, parallels, as well as conflicts,” Dupris said, about this month’s Art + Lit, a discussion of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life and the role that pop art plays in the book. The novel is about a group of four close friends who, after graduating college, move to New York to try and make it in their respective careers.

There is the kind and handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, the witty and at times cruel artist seeking an invitation into the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and the intensely private and cryptic Jude, whom the novel is centered on. The story spans over a few decades, chronicling the relationship of these men from young adulthood to middle age; their relationships intensify and splinter, becoming imbued with addiction, success, pride, and trauma.

“What is so powerful about this book is that it is less about trauma in the act and more about surviving after,” Alexander said as she began the discussion. Set in New York during the pinnacle of pop art, Yanagihara cites artwork as a main source of inspiration for her characters, the environments they live in, and the situations they face. Yanagihara uses art in her novel as “inspiration, preparation, and quality control.”

The artists mentioned and cited as inspiration include Ryan Mcginley, Geoffrey Chadsey, Diane Arbus, Meret Oppenheim, and Nan Goldin, among many others. The discussion brought up the idea of art as exploitation and the history of photography as documentation of others, perhaps at their expense, which is a key element within A Little Life.

Wang was the second speaker of the evening. Her presentation titled “Life is a Constant Struggle,” cited the Buddhist notion that “all life is struggling,” which certainly proves true in the novel as well as the perhaps stereotypical plight of the artist. Wang led an insightful discussion and lecture of pop art in this painful novel, while engaging her audience as she does her students.

The next Art + Lit discussion will be hosted on March 3; presenters will discuss Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian alongside Native American paintings.

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