The Research Behind Art

On Tuesday, November 20, my friend took me to Buffalo, New York to see the hit Broadway show Hamilton. I had been wanting to see this show for a long time; memorizing the lyrics, and reading about the writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s, process in creating the show. While geeking out after seeing Hamilton and reading as much as I could about it, I realized just how much time, effort, and research it must take artists like him to make some of  the world’s most interesting art. Jemisin also uses her knowledge from other disciplines to create depth in her work.

The inspiration behind the most popular Broadway show of our generation, Hamilton, was a biography about Alexander Hamilton’s life written by Ron Chernow. Following that, Lin-Manuel Miranda read letters and writings by all of the founding fathers to create the basis behind the characters and to contribute to the catchy lyrics in the show.

In class we have talked about how Jemisin may have used Octavia Butler’s work as inspiration. Dr. McCoy gave the class excerpts from four of Butler’s works, Dawn, Kindred, Wild Seed, and Mind of My Mind, to compare to Jemisin’s writing.

Jemisin also demonstrates a knowledge of geology in her writing. She uses great detail in explaining what an orogene feels in the earth, “Syenite frowns. Her fingers spread and twitch, following the flow and curve of the sesuna. Soft slither of lose schist and sand and organic matter, cool press of solid bedrock, flow and dip” (The Fifth Season, 220).

Jemisin also uses a knowledge of rocks when naming the Fulcrum orogenes. For example, Alabaster is a mineral or rock that is soft, often used for carving. Alabaster, as a character, is soft when it comes to his children,

“While she stares at him in chilled realization, he even slaps his knee with one hand. Still laughing, because what he wants to do is destroy everything in sight. And if his half-dead, half-grown son could touch off a supervolcano, there’s really no telling what his father could do if he set his mind to it. Or even by accident, if his control slips for a moment” (The Fifth Season, 148).

As a character, Alabaster is used for carving by the Fulcrum. Toward the end of The Fifth Season and throughout The Obelisk Gate, he expresses his anger toward the Fulcrum and how they controlled him and raised him to be their tool. He says,

“Orogenes built the Fulcrum, […] We did it under threat of genocide, and we used it to buckle a collar around our own necks, but we did it. We are the reason Old Sanze grew so powerful and lasted so long, and why it still half-rules the world, even if no one will admit it. We’re the ones who’ve figured out just how amazing our kind can be, if we learn how to refine the gift we’re born with,” (The Fifth Season, 418).

Along with other artists, N. K. Jemisin and Lin-Manuel Miranda both possessed outside knowledge before making their well-known art. To me, learning about the background to their masterpieces makes the artists’ work more interesting.

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