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Poetry Stimulated by Visual Art

By John C. Mannone

Introductory Remarks

I see that visual arts, like photography and art paintings, depict people, places, things, and nature in varying degrees of scope and detail - micro- and macrocosms. They often evoke feelings from which poetry might be born. Shape and color, symmetry and form are apparent, but texture, smell, in short, the other senses, not to mention dynamics, behavior or any other temporal cause or effect, have to be imagined. The cliché - a picture is worth a thousand words - is certainly true, but to a poet, words paint a thousand pictures.

For me, there is no doubt of interaction between art and poetry: visual art stimulates poetry or a poem might stimulate a painting, drawing or sculpture (though I am not gifted with my hands). There is often a synergism that renders the collaborative work (whether by the same person or with different literary and visual artists) that is greater than the sum of its hearts (to deliberately avoid another cliché).

I want to take this one step further and consider visual abstraction. Yes, even a well-defined object might appear abstract to one who is unfamiliar with it. For example, visualize a microscopic thin section of a leaf or the insides of a bacterium, the play of light and shadow on water waves late in the afternoon, a close-up of the complex geometry of flower petals and parts, or something less definite like the Hubble Space Telescope images of a planetary nebula with its mysterious swirls of hydrogen gas and dust and hidden birth of stars. The abstract helps tease out meaning from the left side of the brain. We furtively search for identification or what the image might mean - concreteness. At the same time, the right side of the brain continues to fantasize about the image, not bounded by logic, but guided by impression. It's a remarkable process, an unexplained dynamic happens (though I am trying to do just that). Associations are made among the concrete things imposed on the image, the fantastic elements conjured by imagination, and the memories or experiences triggered by them. Collectively, they spark the genesis for a poem (in a similar, but more complex way as simple word associations from a list of words that we might be tasked to incorporate in our writing).

It's not that images of recognizable well-defined subjects don't do the same thing, but I have found that the associations take longer to make and may be channeled along much fewer paths. The non-confining interpretations of an abstract image, or of a recognizable image with elements of abstraction, allows the freedom of thought, of inspiration, that might not be there, at least to the same extent, in images with well-defined form and substance. To the poet, all these things trigger a fanciful observation and transfer of past experiences to the image (or vice versa) - an observation of the human condition is often footnoted. And this observation might or might not be profound, but at least salient or pensive, spanning all the emotions. This is the stuff of poetry. But perhaps nothing more than a poetic description of the surreal will emerge or a poetic statement of the obvious, it doesn't matter, these things are important for our maturing as writers, too. The important thing is to engage the imagination.

Mannone/Carusillo Collaboration

Having heard about the award-winning work of a regional artist in Athens, TN, Jason Carusillo, I encourage him to share his work a local coffee shop (Java on the Square) where the artwork of other visual artists is featured. I also host a monthly open mic for poets and musicians there. Jason's work immediately stimulated me to write poetic expressions. His predominant expressionism and cubism style is sufficiently abstract that numerous themes evolved, but the speculative dark ones survived. Having heard some of my slipstream poetry, Jason is currently studying some it to stimulate his artwork. We have a true collaboration.


(Some art terminology adapted from Wikipedia sources)

Expressionism was a cultural movement originating in Germany at the start of the 20th-century as a reaction to positivism and other artistic movements such as naturalism and impressionism. It sought to express the meaning of "being alive" and emotional experience rather than physical reality. It is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect; it is a subjective art form.

Positivism is a philosophy that holds that the only authentic knowledge is that which is based on actual sense experience. Metaphysical speculation is avoided.

Characteristics of Impressionist paintings include visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time) ordinary subject matter, the inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.

Naturalism in art refers to the depiction of realistic objects in a natural setting. The Realism movement of the 19th century advocated naturalism in reaction to the stylized and idealized depictions of subjects in Romanticism.

Realism in the visual arts and literature is the depiction of subjects as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation.

The Romanticism movement stressed strong emotion as a source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and awe-especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories."

Cubism, a 20th century avant-garde art movement, takes objects, breaks them up, analyzes and re-assembles them in an abstract form. In this way, objects are depicted with multitude viewpoints giving subjects greater context.