Sister Arts
April 15, 2003 7:09 PM   Subscribe

Ut pictura poesis (that is, "as is painting, so is poetry"). The Web has helped solve at least one scholarly conundrum: what's the best way to present the work of those artists who took the theory of "the sister arts" to its logical conclusion? Try, for example, The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, hosted by the University of Virginia. Or, if Pre-Raphaelites are not quite your thing, there's the William Blake Archive, which offers multiple versions of the illuminated books. And don't forget the man behind the wallpaper, William Morris. While William Makepeace Thackeray was a rather less successful artist--his ambitions in that line didn't quite pan out--nevertheless his illustrations to Vanity Fair (scroll down) are crucial to the novel (which doesn't stop many publishers from leaving them out...).
posted by thomas j wise (8 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Very brave and interesting, tjw! I don't know whether the implications (and suggestions) of your post can be adequately discussed here, though. I've had this argument many times, deep into many insoluble and unending nights. Poetry increasingly preys on painting, to be sure, but I don't think it embraces the shared identity as deeply as Horace proposed.

Today, painters and poets seldom study the Horatian simile and the expanded "texts" of the Italian, French, and English treatises on the humanistic theory of painting, and few artists care whether painting ever had a superior, an elder, or any sister.

This is certainly not true of Portugal or Britain, in my experience. In fact, it's part of the problem!

FWIW, I think poetry is one thing and painting another. And (if nobody minds my saying so) I'm definitely prejudiced in favour of the poets.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2003

Thanks, tjw--I'm in the midst of a class on this very topic ("Poetry in the Visual Culture"), and I look forward to looking through all this.

(Twenty minutes later:) Okay, I've been fruitlessly looking for a decent online version of John Ashbery's "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name" for long enough. Perhaps if any of you kind people comes across one, you would be kind enough to link to it.
posted by hippugeek at 8:23 PM on April 15, 2003

Oh god, there are others like me. May I also suggest the Decameron Web, a facing-page Italian-English hypertext edition of that story about people telling stories while the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Timely.
posted by hairyeyeball at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2003

Nice post. Back in the early days of (if anyone remembers it -- only a shell of its former self now, alas), one of our noblest experiments was teaming up poet Allen Ginsberg and painter Francesco Clemente for a multimedia web thang called Pastel Sentences. This piece was one of HotWired arts editor John Alderman's many great ideas.

Clemente painted, Ginsberg wrote little fragments inspired by the work, and we presented the images, text, and Ginsberg's inimitable voice. Neither the paintings nor the poems were career high points, but it was fun, and a delicious use of the Web.

For the record, I was also the guy who showed Ginsberg the Web. The occasion was my interview with him for HotWired, which ended up being the final interview with him in his great book Spontaneous Mind.

As I recount at the top of the interview linked above:
Following our conversation, I showed Allen the World Wide Web for the first time. I'd been telling him about the self-publishing samizdat aspect of the Web, knowing that he'd made a point of donating his work to small, labor-of-love zines even after he was the best known poet in America. I took Allen immediately to Levi Asher's Literary Kicks site, to the page on his work there, clicking through Jack Kerouac's and Neal Cassady's names to demonstrate hypertext to him. He didn't say much, and then I took him to a search engine, where a search on the phrase "allen ginsberg" called out 2,000 hits - probably the maximum. He looked at all the pages built in his name. "Thank God I don't know how to work this," Allen sighed.
Ginsberg died just four months after that.

I miss him.
posted by digaman at 8:37 PM on April 15, 2003

And here I was tickled that I could choose to be accompanied by Dore, Botticelli or Dali as I perused the Divine Comedy

Much of the good stuff I have found on the web in the past has been motivated by the idea that someone, somehow should have done this and perhaps they have. I once spent an hour or so looking for a modern graphical representation of Dante's descent only to get a few dissappointing clickable image maps.

In the same vein, Goya's Caprichos manages to be a powerful series of comments and indictments told in the language of painting. This is a language that I believe was more highly developed in the past though glimpses of this are in the 20th century among the woodcuts of Masereel and for Surrealist poetry in Ernst's magnificent Une Semaine de Bonte

Thank you for this, tjw. My only wish is that you would post more often...
posted by vacapinta at 9:26 PM on April 15, 2003

Thank you thomas j. wise, you provided the perfect nightcap.

My only wish is that you would post more often...

My only wish is that you and vacapinta would post more often.

hippugeek: will this do?
posted by snez at 1:19 AM on April 16, 2003

There is so much about this post that I'm in love with. Thanks thomas j.

I've tried to explore some of the edges between the linguistic and visual arts before. I find some sympathy, certainly, but more in the way that we conceptualise around the object of our art, than any similarity in the physical exercise. I find words to be inadequate to depiction. Interpretation breaks the true connection between mind and eye. However, it's easier to grasp the abstract in words than with a brush.

Obviously there are shades of grey in between, where a painting may be open to interpretation, or convey an abstract concept, or a poem may uniquely place a consistent image in the appreciative mind. The two can be mixed also, but only with a double edge: the juxtaposition of text and image nearly always jars and distracts, at least for me.

Also, I'm not a painter, but I love the challenge of words. I hate it almost as much. It's a glorious, bittersweet spiral, and I hope to be twisted by it for as long as I may.
posted by walrus at 2:19 AM on April 16, 2003

If you are into Symbolists like Blake and Rossetti, I wholeheartedly recommend ArtMagick.
posted by mark13 at 9:16 AM on April 16, 2003

« Older the new canon   |   The photographer of the species is deadlier than... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments