It has been a rough month for me. I seem to have exhausted myself a little with my busy winter projects and it has left me with poor health and almost no energy for painting. I struggled to keep up unsuccessfully, and then wisdom prevailed and I slowed things down and I am diverting my attention awhile…
I was recently reading a post on a forum discussing the merits of art and poetry. One post quoted Leonardo Da Vinci from his notebooks:
” Poetry is superior to painting in the presentation of words, and painting is superior to poetry in the presentation of facts. For this reason I judge painting to be superior to poetry … “
I sometimes wonder why me must choose? I suppose it is true that art can transcend language, but, then, language is the basis for culture.
One man who had less than great respect for the rationalism of his contemporaries, William Blake, saw no need to create such distinctions, nor impose them on the experience of the World. Blake saw nothing of greater importance than knowledge and imagination, which was, without question, in short supply in neither Blake, nor Da Vinci.
Both considered the eye to be the window to the soul. Blake’s influences were medieval, his thought perhaps influenced by gnosticism; his art, Durer and Michelangelo. Durer often put the reflection of a window in the eye’s of portraits.
I was introduced to the poetry of Blake during my university years in a survey course that took at broad look at English poetry from Chaucer to Hardy. I am sure I was not mature enough at the time to really take in much of what Blake had to say, nor were his views really taken into account in such a brief study. I found him in a backward sort of way.
I was browsing a used bookstore last year and I pickup a book that contained a single poem, Gray’s Elegy. Considering the subject matter of my recent paintings and the kinds of thoughts and emotions that would stimulate such a series, I was immediately affected by the poem. It was through this I really began to ‘discover’ Blake. Blake was commissioned to illustrate that poem. From that point on, I began to explore, a little, the images and the importance of the poetry with which it was interwoven.
This week I acquired the Thames & Hudson “William Blake: Complete Illuminated Books”. The etchings (relief etchings which became the basis for modern printing) are hand coloured in the manner of illuminated manuscripts – a spectacular blending of painting and words. Each plate is printed at the size in which Blake created it.
Our modern society is always making comparisons, polarizing things much like the quote by Da Vinci. I think so much of the experience of life is lost in this distillation as much as I think that the poems of Blake are greatly enhanced by seeing them in the context of art with which they were created. It is easy to accept whatever it is that we are offered and feel we are rational in our reductionism and that that is all there is. No wonder we are so depressed. The pendulum has swung too far from the center.
I advocate more imagination. Dreams. And that the marriage of those dreams with the facts of art might create something else.. something better. The Divine is not something outside of ourselves and perhaps those polarizations are not any more real than the words that describe them. I think Blake was onto something. So my exploration begins…
My Reading List:
- Fearful Symmetry, Northrup Frye
- Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, David Erdman (ed.)
- William Blake – The Complete Illuminated Books, Intro by David Bindman