Glasgow lifestyle: A busy week: GYFF opening gala night & Jack Vettriano creative writing workshop


vettrianoHello there

I trust that all is well with you and that you are surviving all the miserable weather of late. 

Thankfully, there is absolutely loads going on in Glasgow right now for all you culture vultures, and the last couple of weeks in particular has made me really appreciate all that is on offer on my doorstep.

Glasgow Film Festival

A couple of weeks past hence, but still worthy of a quick mention, is the annual Glasgow Youth Film Festival hosted at the gorgeous Glasgow Film Theatre.  I was fortunate enough to see, “We are the best” on the opening night; a Swedish full length feature film set in a snowy 1980s Stockholm, which was a fitting choice made by the programmers for the festival. The film is about three girls who don’t fit the mould at school and so decide to team up for a good old vent via an all girl punk act.  Funny, heart-warming and with some superb performances from Mira Barkhammer, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne, the film left me bounding home from GFT with a big smile on my face.  Superb and well worth a look if you fancy adding yet another Scandi fix to the bucking trend.

Creative Writing Workshop at Kelvingrove

On a more Scottish note, I had the pleasure of attending a creative writing workshop at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow last week. The workshop was being run in conjunction with the soon to finish, “Jack Vettriano: A Retrospective” exhibition, and was hosted by Brian Whittingham, a noted local writer and poet.

I was really excited to attend this workshop, it having been a while since having much (or indeed any) time to devote to the creative writing process.   I guess you could call me an enthusiastic amateur. I have participated in an OU creative writing course and also a distance script writing course run by Oxford University, but this was to be my first experience of interacting in a real time class room environment. For some reason, the thought of actually sharing my weird and wonderful ideas in a class forum has always made me nervous.  Consequently, there are various short stories and even a children’s novel sitting unseen in notebooks and on memory sticks scattered around my flat.

Anyway, enough about me, back to the workshop….

There were only fifteen spaces available on this taster writing session, and having heard demand was expected to be high I jumped as quickly as I could at the opportunity to be a part of it. There was a real mix of more experienced writers right through to absolute beginners joining me on the day, which was great to see. Brian started by introducing himself and then gave an overview of his objectives for the morning, followed by an introduction to the museum and its mission statement. As obligatory as this element of the workshop seemed, it was still interesting to hear some of the museum’s latest news and particularly that the Jack Vettriano exhibition had seen over half a million visitors in the couple of months it has been on. Wow!  Huge numbers for a man who could be best described as the art world’s Marmite. 

I have to say that one of the best things about the workshop was that we didn’t have to go round the room and say something witty and interesting about ourselves.  That type of ice breaker is my absolute pet hate, and in my view, merely serves to make confident people champions, and nervous people (me) even more nervous!  Once the laid back mood was set, Brian moved on to discussing some techniques using art that could help us to get inspired to write.  He drew on several of Jack Vettriano’s works as examples, the artist himself being well known (and heavily criticised at times) for brazenly lifting (some say copying) his inspiration from other artists, lyricists and Hollywood.

Brian also provided insight into some more technical artistic criticisms levied at the artist, such as the perspectives of the paintings being off centre, and that the subjects are never looking straight on.  We debated the merits and de-merits of Vettriano’s approach to inspiration as a group, concluding unanimously that it is entirely up to the creator of a work of art to do as they please, irrespective of the critics that pooh-pooh the outcome as being derivative.  I’m no art buff, but I would challenge a critic to name a contemporary artist whose work is not, in fact, derivative in some way.  The same goes for the contemporary novel.  Brian provided examples of other artists and painting styles to support both sides of the discussion, which was all very interesting to me as I had not really considered using paintings as sources to trigger inspiration.  It also got me wondering if, as in the literary world, there would ever be litigation raised against a painter who seemingly uses another person’s “ideas” as the basis for his or her works without permission. Mmmmm.  I must look into that some more when I have time and would love to know if Jack has ever encountered this given his well publicised success.

During the next section of the workshop, we put the theory of “shopping” for inspiration to the test by spending some time in the Jack Vettriano exhibition itself, which was free entry to those participating in the workshop.  This was actually my third time in the exhibition and so was able to skilfully bypass the “Singing Butler” to focus on my preferred works. The exercise Brian had set us was to pick one or more of the pictures, to take notes on what we saw, what we thought was going on and then let our mind wander from there. I found myself furiously writing the “movies in my mind” on the paintings, “Yesterday’s Dreams,” “An Imperfect Past,” and “Girl’s Night.” I was surprised at how much ground I covered as one of my worries about a class room setting was writers block under pressure. Mind you, Vettriano made this easy with his overt use of strong images including gangsters and erotica, although I do wonder how similar some of our ideas may have been were we to have time to have sat and compared notes.  Another common criticism of Vettriano is that his work is too “obvious.”   It seems that poor guy can’t win!

During the final section of the workshop, we discussed how we found the exercise.  All of us agreed that spending the morning in an art gallery was a surprisingly accessible way to get creative ideas flowing.  Brian spoke a little more about how many of Vettriano’s paintings were named after songs, most particularly, Leonard Cohen songs.  Not being overly familiar with his songs, on the whole due to the melancholic reputation he has (!), it was interesting to appraise the painting “bird on a wire” and then look at it again whilst the song was played.  I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to drift off.  Listening to the song really changed to how I viewed the main protagonist in the painting.  This again supported how different art forms can be used to help inspire and interpret the creations of others.

I really enjoyed the practical nature of the workshop, Brian’s voice of experience and how we interacted with the exhibition, albeit just a two hour taster session.  I came to Vettriano, like many, not being sure if I liked it, being overly familiar with the “Singing Butler” and his many critics.  Much to my surprise and delight, I have discovered a whole new side to the artist.  A much sexier, dark and mysterious side.  It has made me ponder at length about the man himself ever since the workshop. He who failed to appear “due to unforeseen circumstances” at short notice for his own book signing that very day.  He who has become tabloid fodder, reluctantly known for his rumoured colourful private life, yet who remains Scotland’s most successful artist of all time from a financial perspective. 

To sum up the key lesson I took from the workshop, I shall quote the man himself:

“Whereas Martin Scorsese wants to do an entire film, I just want to do a frame, one shot. And it’s for the viewer to decide how they get there and the viewer to decide what’s going to happen to them afterwards.” – Jack Vettriano

I shall be picking up Vettriano’s baton on this and running wherever it takes me.  I look forward to seeing if Kelvingrove Museum intends to run any more creative writing workshops in conjunction with their exhibitions, and don’t hesitate in recommending that you sign up and give it a go next time if you are in any way inclined.

Thanks go to Pat for hosting these musings; I hope you enjoyed the read.  To see more news and reviews on what’s going on in my little piece of Glasgow, please visit my blog  You can also follow me on twitter @Glasdragonfly.  I would love to hear any comments, suggestions and/or feedback that you have on any of my posts or my blog and so please stop by for a chat anytime.

Have a great week and I shall be back with more Glasgow lifestyle stuff soon.


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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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