Writing 101

How to Use Art as a Writing Prompt

Some helpful hints for writing ekphrastic poetry and fiction

Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written
Published in
10 min readMay 24, 2024

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Photo by Vincent Tantardini on Unsplash

If you saw my subtitle and said “What the hell does ekphrastic mean?”, you’re probably not alone. Outside of snooty literary journals and university syllabi, the word “ekphrasis” is not particularly common, but it’s a concept you’re probably familiar with.

In ancient Greece, the term ekphrasis was applied to the skill of describing an object with vivid detail, such as Homer’s 150-line poetic depiction of the shield of Achilles in The Iliad. An example you may have been exposed to in English class is John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which describes an imagined artifact with extreme care.

In modern usage, ekphrastic poetry refers to poems written about or inspired by a piece of art specifically. The poetry magazine Rattle holds a monthly contest where poets are asked to submit work inspired by a piece of art, such as a painting, a collage, or a photograph.

Aside: I highly recommend entering the Rattle Ekphrastic Challenge. Two prizes of $100USD are awarded every month to a poem chosen by the editor of Rattle and one chosen by the artist. It’s a great way to stretch your creative muscles, and the chosen art is often very evocative. Previous winners are featured on…

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Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written

Canadian author of three LGBT YA novels. PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Check out my lists for stories by genre/type.