By: Joan DeMartin
The title of this post, “Writing and the Arts”, is taken from the writing class of the same name I had the privilege of teaching to first year students at a wonderful art and design college. It was meant to evoke the idea that the class was different than a traditional freshman composition course and would allow students to learn how to think and write about art, and to demonstrate that writing and other art forms are often intertwined. I hoped it would demonstrate that writing is an art form.
Although many people elevate fiction writers to the level of artist, it’s rare that writers of non-fiction, including the various types of business communication, are considered creators of an art form. But it is an artistic endeavor to take the time to shape your writing to communicate just the right message in the clearest and most direct way. And technical and other business writers can learn techniques to accomplish this goal from artists in other mediums. Enter “The Bull”.
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) ‘Bull – plate 11’, January 17, 1946 (lithograph)
That’s Pablo Piccaso’s Bull—all eleven lithographs the artist created over an approximate month-long period starting in late 1945—that take the animal from a fully fleshed out creature complete with snout and hooves to a stick figure that manages to remain an easily recognizable bull. A 2014 New York Times article described how Apple Inc. the largest tech company in the world, uses the Picasso bull analogy to describe and communicate its philosophy of paring down each product to only the essential elements necessary for its sleek, minimalist designs. In fact, the Company teaches a variety of classes, open only to Apple employees, including one titled “Communicating at Apple”, that “focuses on clear communication, not just for making products intuitive, but also for sharing ideas with peers and marketing products.” And you can bet no redundancy or fluff is tolerated in Apple’s written communications, just like it’s banished from their product designs.
So why should your business writing be anything less that succinct and direct, and your ideas pared down to nothing more than “its essential components”? It shouldn’t be. And Picasso’s Bull analogy can be the framework you use to whittle your writing to only what is necessary to clearly communicate your ideas and message. In part, it’s the time-honored writing technique of revision, revision and more revision, with each draft stripping away superfluous words and phrases, substituting vague words for specific ones, changing weak verbs to strong, action-oriented verbs and re-working passive voice to active.
Picasso revealed this process in eleven iterations, but your revisions can vary from two or three to what may seem like countless tweaks. It takes practice and patience, but if in the end, you’ve cut the clutter in your thinking and in your prose enough to let your message and ideas shine through unobstructed, then you’ve successfully borrowed a technique from one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the twentieth century. And that will help elevate your writing to an art form.