Skip to main content

Book of the Week: Poets on Painters


This week's recommended book is 'Poets on Painters', edited by J. D. McClatchy (University of California Press, 1990).

A friend gave this to me a few months ago (or at least I think it was a gift!). Several of the entries at the start of the book are familiar essays from the early twentieth century, written by poets in defence of the new art movements of the time. Examples: Ezra Pound on Vorticism, Gertrude Stein's essay 'Pictures', which is from a series of lectures given as part of a lecture tour of the USA in 1931, part-sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art.

But the value of the book lies in the fact that it gathers up a lot of shorter, occasional pieces that don't often get reprinted. They are mainly by American poets - Stevens, cummings, Rexroth, Creeley, Ashbery - but they are full of interesting thoughts on art, which remain interesting even if I don't agree with them. For example, in Against Abstract Expressionism, Randall Jarrell writes:

"Continued long enough, a quantitative change becomes qualitative. The latest tradition of painting, abstract expressionism, seems to me revolutionary. It is not, I think, what it is sometimes called: the purified essence of that earlier tradition which has found a temporary conclusion in painters like Bonnard, Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Kokoschka. It is the specialized, intensive exploitation of one part of such painting, and the rejection of other parts and of the whole."

I don't agree that abstract expressionism rejects the whole of the earlier tradition, but the rest of it is well said. And he shows prescience by the end of the essay when he writes: "Man and the world are all that they ever were -- their attractions are, in the end, irresistible; the painter will not hold out against them long."

One of my favourite pieces is by Ted Hughes, concerning the great woodcut artist Leonard Baskin, with whom Hughes collaborated. Hughes description of the essence of Baskin's work is a wonderful summary of the whole effect of woodcut printmaking:

"The internal lattice of refracted, converging intensities, which lie there on the paper as a superbly achieved solidity of form and texture, in fact compose a web -- a transparency, something to be looked through."

You can still order this fascinating book on Amazon, I think (click here).

 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times:

Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage. I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct.


A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these days from websites and YouTube videos. I've also had email exchanges with several pr…

Artists Collecting Artists

We're moving apartments in Chicago at the moment, and so we've spent weeks sorting through all our worldly possessions and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to turn into other-worldly non-possessions. Patty thinks that we have thrown out, recycled, or found other homes for about 100 boxes of stuff -- clothes, furniture, kitchenware, air conditioners, books, CDs, DVDs, old documents, and above all, photos.

So many photos. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of them duplicates from our wedding in 2002. You might be horrified at the idea of someone throwing even copies of their wedding photos,but really, how many shots of people standing around in a garden looking at the bride and groom do you need? The whole process of discarding so much accumulated stuff made us marvel at how much junk seems to accrue to you in a short space of time, and how much you really can live without if you just let it go.

Simultaneously I carried out the same kind of ruthless culling of the he…