None of us is whole without others. Art is My Religion is a personal space I created to share. It came into being only because so many other artists, much greater than I’ll ever be or can aspire to be, enlightened me. They shared through the medium of Art in all its many forms. With my completed novel, The Tell-Tale Art, I hope to also share.  May you find something of interest here that’ll spark further explorations of your own.  

My web page’s banner displays six figures.  Artists as emblems.  These emblems are by no means all inclusive or complete.  Consider them a shorthand into what made me a writer.  

Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179)

Medieval polymath, all the more extraordinary for being a woman.  Composer, abbess, preacher, theologian, mystic, she wrote about medicine, science and, of course, theology.  She spoke truth to power to her male Catholic masters.  You can find her compositions on most music services.  Give her a listen.  Years ago, during a tough time in my life, her music lifted my spirit when I needed it most.  She might do the same for you.  

My hope is to someday write a short story about Hildegard.    

William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Be it madness to try to sum up the Bard in a few sentences? Here goes: By my eye he invented modern Western Art. Many things today we take for granted in great modern literature Shakespeare did first. He did all this in an Elizabethan and Jacobean society where such ideas were hardly fashionable: Fully-fleshed characters who were–gasp!–female.  The idea that fully realized romantic love is not necessarily heterosexual. That people of color are fully endowed humans. That mental illness is a thing. Wrote iambic pentameter that sounds as sweet as music, not stodgy or rigid. Invented hundreds of words we still use today. Taught all the great moral truths that make us human–without citing religion, without being didatic. He loved puns. The list goes on.    

Though I studied Shakespeare in college, his work didn’t start to infect my consciousness, my spirit, until I approached him on my own.  Apropos, as Shakespeare is history’s greatest example of an accomplished autodidact.  I take that as inspiration.  I also take his lessons–in his plays and poetry–as a map of what it means to be human.  If Art is my Religion, Shakespeare’s the bible.  

The sequel of my current novel is a book about Shakespeare, called The Dark Lady.  

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Another autodidact. Keats trained to be a surgeon, abandoned it for poetry.  Tuberculosis killed Keats at the tender age of 26, but not before he left with us with some of the most gorgeous and sensual poetry in literature. He also left his voluminous letters. In them he conceived the artistic concept of negative capability–the ability of an artistic genius to create Art that seems to surpass any predetermined or measured human capacity. To put it another way, how a true poet is able to utterly subsume his or her ego and thereby create a fully realized voice. Keats’ prime example of negative capability was, of course…William Shakespeare.  

I’ve written a short story about John Keats called “Lady Without Mercy.”  

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)

Some would argue that Poe is the least of the artists here. Aside from some of his best short stories and a couple of his poems, I feel there’s an argument to be made for that. But the ‘Father of the Modern Mystery’ wrote in many genres, some of which hadn’t yet been labeled. This included mystery, horror, science-fiction, fantasy, detective fiction, satire, humor and, of course, poetry.  Just as importantly, he invented the idea of ratiocination: That method of detection which combines scientific observation with empathetic intuition. It is, really, a very feminine approach to detection. For me, Poe is emblematic of a modern way of thinking. 

Edgar A. Poe narrates half of my most recently completed novel The Tell-Tale Art. The other narrator, appropriately, is a woman, Eleanor. Two narrators, two genders, from two different worlds, who come beautifully together.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

Christina Rossetti was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Their paintings have always enthralled me. Although Christina’s brother Dante was a painter and she a poet, I selected her to represent the Pre-Raphaelites because she was the by far the finest poet of the bunch, and one of the premiere female poets of all English writers. To me she represents a woman succeeding in a patriarchal society that worked in innumerable ways to repress female genius. And though Ms. Rossetti lived almost two hundred years ago, it’s easy to see she acted as she believed: she was a volunteer at shelters for former prostitutes, and was an outspoken critic of slavery and animal cruelty in an era when such stances weren’t very popular.  

Ursula K. LeGuin (1929 – 2018)

The writer I wish I could emulate. What do I mean by that? In my opinion, LeGuin more than any other modern writer has elevated genre fiction to the level of literary fiction. Her most brilliant and shining example of that is The Left Hand of Darkness. LeGuin proved that genre fiction (particularly science-fiction and fantasy) doesn’t have to be poorly written, crude, slap-dash or in desperate need of an editor.  

I had the honor of meeting Ms. LeGuin once, several years ago at a World Fantasy Convention. At a panel discussion on feminism in genre fiction, she chimed in to say that she felt that feminist writers need to cajole otherwise combative patriarchal or sexist readers.  That the way to ‘convert’ them to new ways of thinking was to lure them in, and not bludgeon them.  I know she’s right because that’s what she did to me: I was raised in a repressed Evangelical household, but when I read The Left Hand of Darkness in high school, it was the beginning of a new way of thinking for me, the catalyst that eventually transformed my life and my views of the world.  


Rich Novotney