“You absorb me in spite of myself—you alone: for I look not forward with any pleasure to what is called being settled in the world; I tremble at domestic cares—yet for you I would meet them, though if it would leave you the happier I would rather die than do so.”
-John Keats to Fanny Brawne, July 27, 1819
There was a time when letters reigned supreme. The slow verse of a handwritten missive was the means of communication between distant lovers, friends, family, and business partners. There were no telephones to facilitate an immediate connection, and there were no airplanes to expedite a letter’s arrival. There were only pen and ink and the length of time a letter took to travel by ship or carriage or indeed by foot.
Today we have all but lost this ancient art of writing. Letters have become obsolete in these days of digital communication. Our lives are busy, never affording the time to sit down with a pen in our hands and thoughts to be put to paper.
“How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?”
-16th Century widow writing to her deceased husband
A letter, unlike an email, is a visceral experience for both the sender and recipient. Holding a pen and putting it to paper, writing out every syllable, connects the letter writer more fully to the expression of thoughts and emotions. In turn, to hold a letter in one’s hands and know that the marks have been made by the hand of another bridges the divide between writer and reader.
Today, although letter writing may seem obsolete what with the advent of digital communication, there is no reason to relegate this art to the annals of history and leave it at that. On the contrary, composing a lovely, handwritten letter is a wonderful way to set yourself apart from the crowd.
In the art world, it is all about getting in the door. Writing beautifully is a spectacular way to ensure that you do just that.
“I enjoyed your reactions to “American Gothic” very much. The persons in the painting, as I imagined them, are small town folks, rather than farmers. Papa runs the local bank or perhaps the lumber yard. He is prominent in the church and possibly preaches occasionally. In the evening, he comes home from work, takes off his collar, slips on his overalls and an old coat, and goes out to the barn to hay the cow. The prim lady with him is his grown-up daughter. Needless to say, she is very self-righteous like her father. I let the look of her hair escape to show that she was, after all, human.”
describing American Gothic to a fan
Composing a beautiful letter may feel like an intimidating endeavor. Do not be afraid. Gather your materials and speak from the heart. Trust your own voice, rather than trying to put on another for the purposes of this message. Speaking for yourself and being true to your own story and convictions about your art is the best way to convey the meaning behind what you do.
Make your letters an event. Seek out beautiful papers and quality ink pens. Go slow. Take your time. Write a draft of your letter first on scrap paper and walk away from it for a little while. Come back and read through what you have written trying to be honest about how your words and message flow. Have others read your letter with an eye to making it as smooth as possible. When you are confident that you have created a wonderful, readable message, transfer your thoughts to good paper being careful to avoid sloppy mistakes.
“Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another.”
-Frida Khalo to Diego Rivera
A letter will always stand apart from emails or texts. These digital things cannot be kept in the way a letter can. Of course, they can be printed or archived, but there is no feeling of the person who created them. Write your own letters. Speak your art and stand apart from the crowd.
Trust your voice and do not think that you need to write in a vacuum. Reach out to those around you who can help refine this increasingly lost art. And remember, if you would like your writing edited, join the membership program for support and move towards writing beautiful letters, biographies, and artist statements.