Decorate Your Story with Outdoor Art

Whale tail

Outdoor art can be easy to overlook. It becomes part of the landscape as we rush on by. Most novels will give weather details while describing a setting, but there aren’t many I can think of that bring art into it. Yet when we stop and pay attention to a statue or sculpture, it adds to our understanding of a place.

In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus and Hazel picnic near an oversized skeleton sculpture with all kinds of symbolic implications. Even missing art reveals something about a place. In The Orphan Master’s Son, “There seemed to be no statue, and they could not tell what the square glorified.”

A while back, Jilanne Hoffmann wrote a post about San Francisco artists who were using words to create visual art. The idea of a sculpture of a man made of words intrigued me. I wasn’t sure if I had seen local art made from words or if the art around here would be any different. I decided to go on a treasure hunt just to see what could be found. As it turns out, Cape Cod outdoor art is….definitely different:

It might be inexplicable. It might be an eyesore. It might even be something people wouldn’t expect to see in that particular place. Whatever it is, it adds the kind of detail that brings a setting to life.

Cape Cod has its own way of being unique. It’s filled with characters and subtle humor. So it makes sense that the art found here is as craggy and enduring as the land. Ocean life including crabs or an octopus take on funny personalities. The lobster could be called strangely detailed. Sometimes tourists stand in line to get their pictures taken with it.

Except for a warning not to climb on the whale, no words could be found. The art speaks in another way by showing our ties to the ocean and ocean life. Still, my favorite kind of outdoor art is found at the beach.

Snow art

What kind of outdoor art can be found near you?

61 thoughts on “Decorate Your Story with Outdoor Art

  1. You’ve got me thinking about art, particularly sculpture, in literature now. You bring up some good examples too. It’s something I will be looking for now!

    • It seems like a good way to add some fun to a setting. Those were the only ones I could think of off the top of my head but I’m sure there’s more (or if not then there should be). Too bad I didn’t see any goat sculptures though! 🙂

  2. I still remember the Cherry in the Spoon in Mpls – beautiful art piece. I find myself capturing art during my travels and I am pretty good at finding it too. Great Post – thanks for sharing! Happy Hump Day:)

  3. Interesting tie between sculpture and literary works. Made me think about garden scenes in Alice in Wonderland and about the mysterious sculptures literally made out of books in Edinburgh two years ago.

    • That’s right! I forgot about Alice and Wonderland. Sculptures can be pretty sinister too or take on scary undertones depending on what’s happening in the character’s mind. That makes me think of The Shining and the topiaries that came to life. I haven’t heard of the Edinburgh book sculptures but now you’re intriguing me so I’ll have to look those up.

  4. These photos remind me of Maine! Yes, I think art that can ad texture to the setting or serve the story in some other way (plot, characterization, etc.) would be a welcome addition to any story—with the caveat that it should feel natural, not like it was placed there for decoration. Kind of like these lobsters I’m staring at…. 😀

    Thanks, Sheila, for the mention!

    • My pleasure – your post has been in the back of my mind for months now! Thank you for sending me off on that treasure hunt. It’s fun to think about the different kinds of art a particular place might inspire, and how much of that place can be seen in the art. That lobster does kind of draw you in – it’s hard to look away! 🙂

  5. Lovely post, Sheila. I can’t think of novel that include outdoor art but the piece of outdoor art that I love most is on the Copper Coast here in Co. Waterford in Ireland. It os a sculpture that was commissioned to symbolise Ice, Fire and Water. I have a picture of it in this post but really it has to be seen in the flesh to get the full impact, especially when the sun is glistening on it. Hopefully, it will make its way into a novel one of these days!

    • Hahah – now that you mention it, it does look like that could be a possibility! That’s the great thing about art – we can see so many different things in it. Hopefully we won’t have nightmares now after staring at that lobster. 🙂

    • That one is much better than the lobster. 🙂 The funny thing is, I haven’t even added any outdoor art to my novel yet. Now I guess I’ll have to. That’s a great new photo! I hope you guys are filling up the good things jar already.

  6. I remember when I lived in NY, there were really cool sculptures in Battery Park along the esplanade. I love how art is so easy to find in the city. Living out in the country. I can’t think of any art I see regularly. I mean there are flowers and sculptures in people’s yards but no real art that I’m aware of.

    • It is fun to stumble on a strange sculpture in a city. You never know what you might find. We could always make one up for a particular place too. Then the possibilities are endless. I thought I saw a cheese sculpture in WI once, but I might have been dreaming. 🙂

      • Oh that would be so perfect to see in WI. 🙂 The random art in parks in NY always made me stop for a second. It was so nice to have art that accessible–even a part of my daily commute through City Hall Park. 😉

  7. I love outdoor art whenever I see it–even bridges and other hardscape architecture is beautiful and adds to settings.

    • That’s funny because thinking about sculptures made me wonder about architecture too. That’s not always described in novels either, but I guess it’s more likely to be added than some strange sculpture or statue. Hope you’re having a fun year so far!

  8. Wonderful post, Sheila, and I can’t think of a specific piece of art off the top of my head, but we go into San Fran. often and I know I’ve seen a lot. I just can’t remember! Next time we go, I’ll make it a point to bring back some information for you! 🙂 I do like what you write about how it adds to the understanding to a place or life to a setting. We were just there over Christmas, too…xoxo

    • Thanks Lauren! It’s funny how the art there is everywhere so it really blends in. I’ve only been able to get out there once so far and mostly I remember the graffiti murals. Those were so vibrant and full of energy – perfect for San Francisco!

      • Oh, you just reminded me of a mural my daughter and I saw in her college town…it was a beautiful butterfly and I actually have a picture of it! 🙂 So there! I’m not completely forgetful, but then again, I wasn’t thinking of murals, either…I’ll definitely keep my eyes more open now!

  9. Outdoor art can be beautiful, but I’ve seen some ugly and crazy ones. What a great idea to add these into a story! Nice post, Sheila 😀

    • I’m so glad you’re back! I’ve missed your posts. Outdoor art would also be fun to completely imagine. I think I’ve seen some out there that look a bit like your creatures. I hope they’ve been inspiring you!

  10. Sheila love the pics and I adore outdoor art especially anything made from re-cycled junk in the yard I have thought about trying my hand at a barbed wire sculpture, but I think I have enough on my plate at the moment lol.

    • A barbed wire sculpture sounds pretty painful! I love how you’re always finding so many ways to be creative. I’m looking forward to your novel and picture books so I hope you won’t be too distracted by barbed wire and junk in the yard! 🙂

      • Thats my biggest problem I want to have a go at everything….focus focus this year…the picture book illustrations are moving along and up to edits chapter three of Whitby Files….keep pushing and am happy with the work so far in january will share some images in my newsletter this month.

  11. I live on the beach so lots of art surrounds us. The water seems to bring out the creative. I can tell you about one piece of rather contentious art that appeared some time ago. It sits on Manly Wharf and if you ever have the chance to see it you will not miss it. It is locally called the “steaming turd.” Lovely name – because it looks just like a – well – steaming turd. It even blows off steam every now and then. Now I have no idea what it’s suppose to represent, if anything, but I do feel sorry for the artist who never imagined his/her piece would become a local legend in a very steamy way.

    Your pictures are far more beautiful.

    • That’s funny – I’m going to have to look that up now. It makes me wonder what it was supposed to be. That’s great that you live on the beach! It’s true that the water brings out the creative. Whenever I go there, I feel inspired.

  12. Oh, if you hadn’t mentioned those sculptures were found on Cape Cod, I’d have guessed it. So totally Cape Cod! Made me feel homesick, actually. 🙂

    I thought the same thing as Andy1076 — crawfish munching on a human leg. 🙂

  13. When we hop down to DC, there’s the sculpture garden on the Mall. And it even had a place in one of my WIPs. Alas, the rebuild of that one likely means that scene will disappear, which is too bad. Maybe there will be some way to incorporate it and get that outdoor visual across…. We’ll see!

    • Yes, add it back in there! 🙂 After writing this, I tried to think of places where outdoor art might not be overlooked and it made me think of DC. It would be an interesting way to get a glimpse of the characters – if they see the sculptures in different ways or something like that.

  14. Decordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA is a fun and fascinating place! A favorite place to go on a photo walk. There is also access to miles of nature trails to explore!

    • I haven’t been there but I’ll have to check it out. Thanks so much! It sounds like the perfect place to wander and I love wandering.

  15. I’ve recently been experimenting with putting my book into iBook Author prior to publishing as an ibook. For fun, instead of the usual novel text format I chose the biography template which allows photographs to be introduced. I’ve really enjoyed myself adding photographs relevant to the text with lots of street art as well as landscapes and quirky stuff. Unusual for a novel, but people who have seen it have been fascinated. Just another way we can bring words to life.

    • That’s a great idea! Then the reader would really be able to get a feel for the place. I’m always interested to see pictures in biographies. It makes sense to add them into novels too.

  16. Wowza! Those Cape Cod sculptures are amazing. Just what I would expect to see there as we have burly discoverer types and Native Americans all over Milwaukee.

    Guess I haven’t explored visual art much in my novels either. Only a nod to a museum or two. Hmm…interesting idea to add to the setting. Perhaps a cat or goat sculpture will liven things up a bit!

    • Hahah – those sculptures are pretty crazy! I’m surprised I haven’t had nightmares about them yet. Yes we need some land animals in there to mix things up! I can picture them now…that’s the other thing – it would be fun to imagine some outlandish piece of art in a certain setting. That’s one of the great things about fiction – to imagine all those possibilities.

    • Hahah – it does help when we can tell what it is! That 1970s art is especially weird. At school there was a huge black metal rectangle that kind of floated in the sky. Everyone called it a burnt french fry. I don’t think anyone ever figured out what it was supposed to be.

  17. Gorgeous pics! I love outdoor sculpture probably more than other forms of art. Do you know about the Sculpture by the Sea international exhibition? There’s something incredible about experiencing the art in 3D.

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