Is there a specific term for a novel (or poem, or any other artwork) whose content is concerned with writing or creating a similar art? Some examples of the kind of novels I'm thinking of:

2 Answers 2


The closest term is the somewhat more general term metanarration, a terms that is related to metafiction. See Metanarration and Metafiction in the living handbook of narratology:

Metanarration and metafiction are umbrella terms designating self-reflexive utterances, i.e. comments referring to the discourse rather than to the story. Although they are related and often used interchangeably, the terms should be distinguished: metanarration refers to the narrator’s reflections on the act or process of narration; metafiction concerns comments on the fictionality and/or constructedness of the narrative.

Many resources on metafiction don't discuss metanarrative as a separate term, however (even though many mention "metanarrative devices"). See for example:

The term metanovel has been used in a few academic papers but does not to appear to be in wide use. See for example

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    Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew (1979) has been called "a metafictional and parodistic examination of the creative process of writing a novel and its failing." It is very funny and may, one hopes, have discouraged many would-be writers. One of the characters, Anthony Lamont, an aspiring novelist, says of his work in progress: "It seems quite clear that this book will establish me as the most interesting spokesman for the American avant-garde, and for Sur-fiction, as well as Ur-fiction, and Post-Modern fiction to boot." Jan 3, 2021 at 12:18
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    In one section Lamont's characters get together to discuss the drawbacks of being a character in a bad novel: "In one job I threw my clothes on at least twenty times.", "My interest slackens when I’m forced to watch the smoke from my cigarette curl lazily in the air.", "Especially when it’s blue smoke—and it’s always blue smoke!", etc. etc. Jan 3, 2021 at 12:21
  • Not entirely sure this addresses the specific question. In what way is To The Lighthouse metafiction or metanarrative? It's about a painting, not about writing.
    – verbose
    Jan 4, 2021 at 11:30
  • @verbose - question says: "Is there a specific term for a novel (or poem, or any other artwork) whose content is concerned with writing or creating a similar art?" A painting is the second of two examples. Jan 4, 2021 at 12:32
  • @MichaelHarvey that was my point. The question asks for a general term covering all the arts. The answer is specific to writing.
    – verbose
    Jan 4, 2021 at 12:43

A novel that concerns artistic development is termed a Künstlerroman. The word combines the German word for artist, Künstler, with the word for novel, Roman. The Künstlerroman is a specific variant of the more general term Bildungsroman, "novel of education" or coming-of-age novel.

A Künstlerroman is specifically a novel about the coming of age of an artist:

The Kunstlerroman [sic] is a novel that depicts the development of novelists or other artists into the stage of maturity in which they recognize their artistic destiny and achieve mastery of their artistic craft. Examples of this type of novel are James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.

"Kunstlerroman". In Companion to Literature: Facts on File Companion to the American Short Story, ed. Abby H. P. Wenlock. New York: Infobase, 2009. p. 387.

Roberta White discusses To The Lighthouse specifically as a künstlerroman. She says such a discussion "allows for a sharper focus on the many and varied transactions between the sister arts of painting and fiction":

The contrast between Woolf's hard-won confidence as a novelist and Lily's timidity as a painter reflects the historical fact that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was more difficult for women to be accepted as painters or composers than as writers. (pp. 13–14)

A Study of One's Own: Fictional Women Painters and the Art of Fiction. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2005

Since your question asks about novels that take painting, writing, and other artistic pursuits as their general theme, rather than about novels that focus on the process of their own writing, metanarrative or metafiction seem misapplied here. A metafictional novel is one that foregrounds the process by which it is written and draws attention to the fictionality of the narrative. Either as a fictionalized version of the author, or as an invented persona, metafiction includes the narrator as a character. Examples include:

  • Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759–1767), where the eponymous narrator has great difficulty in telling his own story, which he believes should begin with an account of his conception
  • Percival Everett's Percival Everett by Virgil Russell: A Novel (2013), where a man (Percival) visits his father (Virgil) in a nursing home, who proceeds to write a novel about his son, incorporating stories from the other residents of the home
  • Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (1973), which includes Kurt Vonnegut as a character.

But if you're asking about works that specifically focus on artistic endeavor as a theme, rather than on novels that are to some degree self-reflexive or self-referential, then the broader category is Künstlerroman. The latter term covers novels that thematize artistic development. The protagonist of a künstlerrroman does not have to be a writer, but could be any sort of artist: a painter, a musician, a dancer, etc.

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