Our Stories Through Art

As a community of aspiring artists, filmmakers, writers, painters, musicians, and actors, what we all have in common within Emerson’s community is an overwhelming desire to leave a mark upon the world, and to communicate our souls through imagery, music, literature, and countless other mediums. In an attempt to understand how the work of other artists inspires the future generation of storytellers, I interviewed various members of the Emerson community to discover how and what art has inspired them. This is what they had to say.  

Matt Benson, 2018, VMA

A still from Harold and Maude.

What piece of art inspires you? I am really inspired by the painting, Irises by Van Gogh. I think that it has the perfect shade of green and the contrast between light and dark is incredible. It shows emotion and movement, even though it’s a painting.

What piece of art moves you or has had a profound impact on you? Hal Ashby’s 1971 film, Harold and Maude is one of my top five favorite films. I love how the characters feel tremendous losses but still hold onto their morals, refusing to be corrupted by the sadness and troubles of the world.

What piece of art is extremely important to your life? Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. I think it was probably the movie that inspired my whimsical, childlike, and wondrous style of filmmaking and has influenced exactly what I would like to portray in my own films. Like Ashby’s characters, those in Rushmore stay good-hearted even when they suffer so much. They all have the heart to overcome the cynicism of the world.


Cassy Mastalez, 2018, WLP

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte

What piece of art inspires you? The painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat’s famous pointillist painting that depicts various people relaxing at the Grande Jattee in the 19th century. I look at this painting and I see people with a bunch of different stories. They can be anything I want them to be, with sad or happy lives and different stories.

What piece of art moves you or has had a profound impact on you? Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. It’s a memoir and while not everything depicted in it is true, it still shows how hard life really was for immigrants in America and for people in Ireland. It’s a story of strength.

What piece of art is extremely important to your life? The Master of Disguise. It was always my brother and I’s favorite movie when we were younger and it was always a bonding thing. Now it just provides me with a sense of nostalgia.


Tyler Breen, 2017, WLP

Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock.

What piece of art inspires you? I saw a gallery featuring Jackson Pollock when I was eleven. At the time art didn’t have a very impactful place in my life and as I recall it was as though I was seeing something I didn’t understand, nor grasp the full measure of. I haven’t had many experiences like that; being inspired by something I didn’t understand or comprehend the worth of, and with that came a desire to understand. I wanted to find meaning in things, in life. Jackson Pollock was the original motivating piece of art that flung my imagination into the direction of wanting to pursue creativity.

What piece of art moves you or has had a profound impact on you? The first time I watched Magnolia I cried. Paul Thomas Anderson possesses a magical talent at conveying emotion in film. I think Magnolia made me realize the importance of character and a character’s pain.

What piece of art is extremely important to your life? The Greek tragedies have always comforted me in a weird way. I usually found the absurd situations the protagonists found themselves in and the overwhelming adversity they faced a good comparison to convince myself that my problems were minuscule; that I wasn’t accidentally falling in love with my mother or flying too close to the sun. Euripides’ Orestes is my favorite play, and piece of art.


Paul Hoover, 2015, Theater Studies

A performance of Needles and Opium by Robert LePage.

What piece of art inspires you? Needles and Opium, a theatrical performance written and directed by Robert Lepage. His work, this play in particular, inspires me because of his ability to take dazzling special effects far beyond the imagination of the common man and use them to tell a simple, true story that we can all relate to. As a theater director, he fulfills his basic duty of storytelling in a larger-than-life way that is so uniquely his.

What piece of art moves you or has had a profound impact on you? When I was in seventh grade I received the Queen Greatest Hits album for Christmas. Those tracks are some of the most listened to on my iPod today. Imagine if Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and Handel decided to start a rock band: and you’ve got Queen. Each man in that band had the musical knowledge and the talent to rival those great composers, and they played right into the zeitgeist of their day.

What piece of art is extremely important to your life? I think that the artistic medium of today is television. I’d say that Mad Men is one of the most important series in ushering in the platinum age of television. Very fitting that an homage to the past is such an important catalyst that has shown us just what TV is capable of today.


Professor Wendy Walters, African American Literature

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

What piece of art inspires you? I’m inspired by Ralph Ellison’s great novel, Invisible Man, because the writing is so beautiful. Ellison captures an entire sweep of American history in gorgeous literary form. His novel reminds me of why I love both history and literature.

What piece of art moves you or has had a profound impact on you? Claudia Rankine’s poetry book, Citizen: An American Lyric, locates the pain and trouble of our contemporary moment in poetic precision. Yet her work also reminds us that this is not a new story. Her book ends with two images of a painting from 1840, JMW Turner’s Slaveship.

What piece of art is extremely important in your life? The above painting is important for me in the ways that contemporary black poets and novelists (such as Claudia Rankine and Michelle Cliff) have incorporated it into their own literary art. Slaveship is also in the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.