- Ekphrastic means writing about art. Including, I wonder, the art of creating art? Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate, reflects on Ekphrasis here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2006/12/journal-day-two-56d34c8126d79. Ryan writes about the challenges of chasing after reality with a butterfly net: “I have always been uncomfortable describing what already exists. Existing things are just too hot, too self-radiant. My words get soft and gluey if I try to mold them into a facsimile of something. If I were a sculptor, it would be as if I were forced to work with clay that clung to my fingers instead sticking to my projected dog sculpture.” Be a lepidopterist.
- Speaking of titles, take a look at “Famous Book Titles That Took Their Titles From Poetry:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2012/03/famous-book-titles-took-their-famous-book-titles-from-poetry
- Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?
In the Uffizi Gallery, in Florence, has a Touch Tour, for the visually impaired. In addition to sculptures that can be touched, there are three-dimensional representations of some of the pieces, including Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
Standing in front of the majestic piece, we could simultaneously feel the winds showering her with roses and see them in full color. Her coy attempt to cover herself seemed every more futile under our curious fingers.
Of course, we recognize writing and painting as art; most of us can literally and metaphorically see the similarities. However, touch yields similarities in line and form.
Consider the following vivid visual descriptions of “The Blind Woman” by Ted Kooser:
- Read the start of the poem at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42645; you can also listen to the piece at the same site. Describe your favorite color or time of day as if you are delivering it to a person who cannot perceive it with her eyes.
I loved several childhood books above the rest: Little Bear, A New Home for Snowball, Mommy’s Little Helper, and the Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Each of these books was as visually engaging as the narratives within. And, the lessons I learned about helping and kindness and fairness and storytelling shaped my friendships as much as my writing.
So when I first set eyes on Michelangelo’s The David—first the replica in the Palazzo della Signoria and then the original housed in the Galleria dell’Academia (Accademia Gallery) —I recalled the tale of David and Goliath that followed the Garden of Eden and Exodus and the plentiful illustrations to help young readers.
Marveling at David’s towering and pale body, such a stark contrast to, for example, Donatello’s diminutive bronze interpretation, I am perplexed by how much more colossal, how monstrous, how goliath! Michelangelo’s Goliath might be.
In fact, David’s unabashed stance and nudity make me question whether Michelangelo read a different tale than I. According to my Little Garden, David was clothed and about the same age and size as I.
Speaking of Michelangelo, it is February, and I can’t help thinking of TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and his repeated lines: “in the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.”
- See the whole poem here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/detail/44212. It is a dramatic monologue. Consider using this forme to take us along on an uncomfortable visit with strangers, family, doctors, potential lovers.
According to Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
We could not know we were headed into Ai Weiwei’s brain from the lifeboats hanging from the Palazzo Strozzi. We knew, of course, the rubber boats represented the plight of refugees. We knew of Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a dissident, as a prisoner, as a spokesperson for justice and against corruption and censorship.
However, we were overcome with his grief, rage, and agitation as we were delivered into his hippocampus. We recognized its horseshoe shape and how the monumental installations we encountered there helped him–and us–to process history and emotion.
In the second piece, Snake Bag, he sewed 360 backpacks to represent 360 children killed at a school when an earthquake in China’s Sichuan province killed approximately 90,000 people; as visible in the companion video that shows the recovery of the inadequate rebar, the massive destruction was due to the government cutting corners on construction.
In another series, we see Ai Weiwei’s left middle finger extended to the White House, the Eiffel Tower, Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, and the Mona Lisa, among others; these pieces are title A Study in Perspective. His perspective is clear. He even has wallpaper that also has patterns of middle fingers.
An ivory porcelain plot of flowers is centered in the middle of one of the rooms. These flowers represent his rebellion against censorship, surveillance, and control. He further addresses restrictions he faced by recreating the surveillance cameras (in marble), handcuffs (in wood), and hangers (from his imprisonment, in wood).
Film, selfies, pamphlets, 32 Qing Dynasty stools assembled into a circle, 3200 porcelain crabs, Lego portraits of Dante Alighieri and Galileo Galilei and three self-portraits (also in Legos) further intensify the multimedia experience.
I am inspired by this tour of Ai Weiwei’s brain and heart. I am reminded that, especially in the face of oppression and restriction, we must use all of the resources we have at hand to fight for what is right. Art can be mirror, hammer, souvenir, warning, flare, lighthouse, tank, lifeboat…
The Mask of Evil
by Bertolt Brecht
On my wall hangs a Japanese carving,
The mask of an evil demon, decorated with gold lacquer.
Sympathetically I observe
The swollen veins of the forehead, indicating
What a strain it is to be evil.
- Ai Weiwei’s installations and representations function as Brecht’s “mask of evil.” What does your character/speaker have or make to remind her of “what a strain it is to be evil?”
Visit the Kells online at: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v
We were grateful it is not high tourist season as we headed to the Trinity College Library to see the illuminated New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that are known as the Book of Kells.
We learned about the venerated manuscript’s ink and the colors (lilac, pink, verdigris, indigo, and red and yellow ochre) and the collaboration between writer and artist, what symbols we were seeing in the leaves of vellum, that vellum is calfskin, that the book faced several rounds of warfare and survived.
I looked and looked for a piece of writing to capture the sense of this adventure. I finally found “Scriptorium” by Melissa Range:
Before the stepwork and the fretwork,
before the first wet spiral leaves the brush,
before the plucking of the geese’s quills,
before the breaking of a thousand leads…
(Read more at: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/scriptorium)
We leaned over the glass case, wishing we had retained more training in Latin, wishing we had brought a magnifying glass, remembering there was a line of people patiently (or not-so-patiently) waiting behind us. We hastily admired the shine of the colors; we tersely studied the Celtic knots; we speedily marveled at how the pagan and religious interconnect on these pages. I could not resist hurriedly scanning for peacocks (symbols of Christ), fish (symbols of Christ), snakes (symbols of Christ’s rebirth), and eagles (symbols of John and Christ’s ascension to heaven) in the intricate pages displayed.
The next thing we knew we were headed out of the gallery and upstairs into a library reminiscent of Hogwarts’s on the floor above the sacred texts. We felt as if we’d just taken in a museum of information; we were as exhausted as we were acutely aware there is much more to learn.
- The Book of Kells reminded me of Visual Journaling and the power of drafting using visual art as well as words. Here is an example: http://improving-slowly.tumblr.com/post/150287161654/some-of-my-favourite-pages-from-the-summer, and, of course Frida Kahlo’s journal: https://sketchesandjottings.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/fridas-diary-her-tortured-art-journal/.