Writing about Difficult Subject Matter

Writers amongst other artists have the amazing ability to challenge, question, critique and explore our society.

They ask:

– What do we believe as a people?

– Why do we believe this?

– Is there another way?

Many individuals have mixed feelings about writing about controversial topics and taboo subjects. There is a part of me that relates to that and wants to keep the peace, not rock the boat, and ensure everyone is happy. That’s the boring side of me though and she often takes backseat to the other part that’s BOLD and COURAGEOUS.

I want my work to matter and because of this I need to write about what matters to me first and foremost. My topics often seen unpopular or reflect a concealed part of accepted human behavior. For example, for the last two and a half years I have been writing about the death of my son, managing grief and finding healing. It never fails to amaze me how these topics make people uncomfortable – unless they have lived through them. People who have lost a loved one speak my language and I to them. Those are the people who I write for with this focus on bereavement.

The Three Minus One anthology features an essay I wrote where I reveal my raw state of sorrow in the early days after my son died.

The Three Minus One anthology features an essay I wrote where I reveal my raw state of sorrow in the early days after my son died. Read more about Three Minus One.

The different topic I’m embarking on with my new writing at the moment is also somewhat taboo yet equally important I believe to bring into the open. That’s what I care about: opening up topics that should be talked about, breaking the silence. I ask myself all the time: Why are these things hidden?  Should they be? What will happen if I talk about them? Will I tarnish my reputation? Spontaneously combust? Will my work be accepted? How can I change the world?

Here are four principles that provide internal navigation for me in writing about difficult subject matter:


– When you are just beginning to write, do not think about who will read your words. Write from the heart.

– Tell the truth. The truth is scary but needed in our day and age. Your work will matter and stand the test of time if it reflects the time it which was penned.

– If it matters to you, it will likely matter to other people. They are who you write for.

– If it crashes and burns, who cares? You only live once and might as well give it all you’ve got. 


What helps you when you have a challenging topic on your mind? How do you get your thoughts down on paper and out into the world?



Art in Public Places: Thank you The Arts Initiative

These photos of artwork were not taken in a gallery…

They were actually taken in a mall.

Alexis Marie Chute Chicago Mall Art balloons The Art Initiative

When I visited Chicago recently to speak at The Compassionate Friends of America National Conference (presenting on Healing through Visual Art) I visited the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago – but I also spent an hour at the outlet mall in the hotel district near the airport. What I found there were colourful and stimulating creative sculptures and 2D artwork at every turn.

Alexis Marie Chute Chicago Mall Art fashion The Art Initiative

First of all, I love that a commercial space invited such unique and eye catching art. Well done Fashion Outlets of Chicago.

 Secondly, this just goes to prove that you never know where you’ll find inspiration.

Alexis Marie Chute Chicago Mall Art escalator The Art Initiative

It turns out the mall has paired up with The Arts Initiative (Twitter: @artsinitiative1), a collective “dedicated to placing highly interactive visual art in public spaces.” The Work on show was curated by Miami-based Primary Projects Gallery. The mall features the work of many contemporary artists such as Daniel Arsham, Jim Drain, Friends With You, Bert Rodriguez and Jen Stark for example.

Alexis Marie Chute Chicago Mall Art rainbow The Art Initiative

Personally, I look for inspiration everywhere. That’s just who I am. Yet, I loved being totally surprised when I walked into the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. Fashion inspires me in its own right, but the mall truly was like walking through a place of cultural fusion. And I like that.

More about The Arts Initiative in the Fashion Outlets of Chicago

Alexis Marie Chute Chicago Mall Art food court The Art Initiative


Writers have important work to do…

… But everyone deserves a day off. 

Have a great weekend everyone!



MFA Reflections: I’m a Booklover at Heart

There are so many things I love about grad school. The keener in me jumps for joy, for one. I absolutely cherish the immersion in my passion for creative writing and the challenge to improve. The interesting thing I’ve discovered is that this improvement has seeped into every area of my creative practice as writer, artist and human; how I read books, the way I appreciate art, the descriptions I chose when telling my friends about a really amazing experience.

Alexis Marie Chute Harvard Bookstore Books Things I have learned 2 Alexis Marie Chute Harvard Bookstore Books Things I have learned

The reading part is one indulgent pleasure of school. Oh boy, I sound like a nerd – but I love that I have an excuse now to brush off other things to curl up like a cat and read (although I’m more of a dog person). At my school residency in June, a friend introduced me to the Harvard Co-Op Bookstore. It was two levels of row upon row of books. Pure eye candy.

I never thought I’d compare the spines of books lining the walls to a great work of art – but they are sublimely beautiful to me.

Alexis Marie Chute Harvard Bookstore Books Writing

I’ve always loved reading, from as young as I can remember. Summers were spent cradling the pages of novels throughout the warm days till I went cross-eyed every night. And what else is there to do in winter for someone who hates being cold? I have an almost photographic memory and because I imagined all the stories I read, I can still see many of them, like movie clips in my mind.

As a memoir and personal essay writer, I read a lot in these genres. There are many sad stories out in the world. Maybe this is because the challenging moments define us and reveal the people we are, that at the core of the human experience we want to become our best, most happy selves and thus we search for meaning. My first memoir, which is so close to the finish line in editing, is a challenging story. What I’ve starting to work on now is more cheeky and definitely more scandalous (wink, wink) – but in the end they are two stories that connect. One could not have been without the other.

Alexis Marie Chute Harvard Bookstore Books Best American Short Stories 2013

Right now I’m taking a needed break from reading memoirs to delve into short stories. I love the short story form. There are so many craft techniques that jump out at me. Currently I’m working my way through The Best American Short Stories of 2013 and up next is the Best of the 21st Century… which is a mighty large volume.

Writing speaks to the reader, it calls to the child in us who read for pleasure before life got busy and complicated, it plants new ideas and waters the old ones. Writing sings.

What does good writing or your favorite book do for you? And please, please tell me about your favorite book stores and which worn spines decorate your walls like art.

Happy reading day!


What you see is not always what you get at the Art Institute Chicago

I recently visited Chicago to speak at a conference about the healing properties of visual art. Of course spending hours in the renowned Art Institute of Chicago was top on my list once the conference was over. I will write more about my visit to the Art Institute in next week’s post, but for now I want to share a fun moment I had while perusing the different galleries within the museum.

This one particular artwork caught my eye. It was brightly coloured and stood out because of its texture. It looked like used chewing gum stuck together on a surface and the overall effect had a pixilated appearance. My first reaction was to walk up to it so my nose was a foot away and inspect.

“What is that? I don’t think its gum but what… Hmm…” I said to my husband.

I took a step back. And another step. Then my eyes grew wide.

Alexis Marie Chute Art Institute Chicago 02 Art Blog

“There’s a face in there!” I said loudly in the joy of discovery. Some other art patrons leaned back as well and then nodded.

It turns out the artwork is called, “Woman with Halo and Sceptre,” (1972) and the strange textural effect is created through acrylic, cotton and Rhoplex on canvas. Rhoplex is an acrylic emulsion for sealing the work.

What I find so interesting with this piece is that the material choice beckoned me closer and closer, to become intimate with the shapes and textures. At the same time, while standing so close the image of the woman was impossible to decipher, thus allowing for the aha moment later on.

I love aha moments.

Surprises are good in art; they keep the viewer from getting lazy, maintain a visual dialogue and stimulate creative logic.

What you see is not always what you get – sometimes it’s more.

Alexis Marie Chute Art Institute Chicago 01 Art Blog

Once I stepped back from the artwork and saw the woman, I could no longer approach the piece without seeing her. My mind had assimilated the colorful acrylic cotton balls and made sense of it. Still, I loved the early observations where my eyes searched for meaning. And it was wildly satisfying when I found it.

Alexis Marie Chute Art Institute Chicago 03 Art Blog


Find out more about this artwork by Joe Zucker.



Unfulfilled Precognition Exhibition in Calgary

Last night was the opening reception of my exhibition called Unfulfilled Precognition at the EPCOR CENTRE of the Performing Arts in Calgary. My fine art photographs are hung in a window gallery alongside two other artists; Tia Halliday and Natalie McDonald.

Unfulfilled Precognition copyright Alexis Marie Chute 002

Unfulfilled Precognition is a series of photographs I took around the birth and death of my second child. The images were created with the Holga camera and expired film, two deliberately selected tools to convey the helplessness and wonderment of that time. I’ve titled this work Unfulfilled Precognition because, as a mother, from the second I discovered I was pregnant I had visions of the life of my child; I imagined what he would look like and saw him growing up, playing and going to school. When that future became permanently out of reach, those visions were somehow suspended in my mind like memories. I had believed in that future so wholeheartedly. Thus, the photographs reflect this vacant and ghostly yet sensitive psychology.

Unfulfilled Precognition copyright Alexis Marie Chute 003

To view Unfulfilled Precognition, click here.

Unfulfilled Precognition will be exhibited at the EPCOR CENTRE in Calgary, Alberta, Canada from July 11 to September 28, 2014. The opening reception takes place Thursday, July 17, 2014.


205 8th Avenue S.E.
Calgary Alberta, T2G 0K9
Phone: 403.294.7455
Fax: 403.294.7457

Walk-up Hours 
Monday – Saturday:  10am – 6pm
Sunday and Holidays: Closed

Click here to see the visual arts page of the EPCOR Centre.

Unfulfilled Precognition copyright Alexis Marie Chute 005

If you visit the show, please drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Also, if you are going to miss this showing of Unfulfilled Precognition, it will be exhibited next at the Kiwanis Gallery in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada from October 21 – November 23, 2014. Click here to see all 2014 exhibition dates.