Online | Fiction | Reading Group

4 Weeks of Reading Novels about Art as Writers

In this eight-week, four-session class, participants will read and discuss a selection of novels that focus on art and artists.

Books will include:

1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

2. My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998)

3. How to be Both by Ali Smith (2014)

4. Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (2014)

This selection of novels will allow us to explore a diverse range of depictions of art in a range of literary styles, from the more classical to the more contemporary and experimental. We will discuss the way each of these writers effectively describes visual mediums in their prose as well as how they use these stories of artists to represent their own struggles as writers. We will pay particular attention to craft techniques, including description, sensory detail, point of view, and style.

Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray is a literary classic that both critiques and celebrates late 19th-century aestheticism, a movement which celebrated "art for art's sake." Orhan Pamuk's My Name is Red, meanwhile, explores the tension between European and non-European art through the genre of a murder mystery. Finally, Ali Smith's How to be Both and Maria Gainza's Optic Nerve represent two different ways contemporary writers approach art in the 21st century—the first an experimentally structured historical novel and the second a work of autofiction. Together, these novels show us the range of possibilities when it comes to writing about art and illuminate how writers have successfully used the medium of text to depict something as fundamentally visual as art.

We will spend each class period discussing one book, and afterwards we will do a short craft exercise that students will be invited to revise on their own, building towards a longer written project that participants can then share with the instructor for feedback during an optional extra one-on-one conference after the final class. Participants are expected to have read The Picture of Dorian Gray before the first session.

Note: Any ‘ Writers’ student can opt in to a 45-minute consultation with the instructor for an additional fee of $105, in which you receive one-on-one feedback on any writing that emerged from the course, including ideas for revision and specific line edits. Please email [email protected] after your final group meeting to arrange a consultation.

Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features. The Zoom calls will have automated transcription enabled. Please let us know ([email protected]) if you have any questions or concerns about accessibility. 

Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.  


- Greater familiarity with novels about art and artists

- Examinations of four different authors’ writing techniques and what they can teach us about our own writing

- Illuminating discussions of the relationship between craft choices and representations of visual art in fiction

- A supportive environment for exploring new literary possibilities, particularly with regard to writing about other artistic mediums and representing artistic struggles

- Optional: Personal feedback from the instructor on your writing project during an add-on one-on-one consultation

- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes


- Participants must have access to the four assigned books, either as physical copies or e-books

- Participants are expected to have read The Picture of Dorian Gray before the first session begins

- Each session will focus on one book; participants are expected to have read the book before the session begins

- Students are expected to attempt the writing exercises offered at the end of each session


Week One: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

Week Two: My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (1998)

Week Three: How to be Both by Ali Smith (2014)

Week Four: Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (2014)

Aatif Rashid

Aatif Rashid is the author of the novel Portrait of Sebastian Khan (2019, 7.13 Books). His short stories have appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Metaphorosis, Arcturus, Barrelhouse, Triangle House Review, X-R-A-Y, New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims (2021, Red Hen Press), and Made in L.A. Volume 4 (forthcoming 2022). He’s also published nonfiction in The Los Angeles Review of Books and Lit Hub and wrote regularly for The Kenyon Review blog from 2018 to 2021.


“In Aatif Rashid’s witty and dissolute Portrait of Sebastian Khan, a Muslim American college student is conflicted by his love for free-spirited pleasure and the more conventional realities of accomplishment, commitment, and financial success… Sebastian is a flawed but compelling character, and his romances are detailed with rushes of color and sensation. This sensuality alternates with undertones of humor and even subtle splendor.”

Foreword Reviews

"Rashid gives us the chance to look at millennials in a different light."

Atticus Review

"...[a] startling coming of age story."

Necessary Fiction