Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures: (Essays in the Arts)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Why do painters sometimes wish they were poets--and why do poets sometimes wish they were painters? What happens when Rembrandt spells out Hebrew in the sky or Poussin spells out Latin on a tombstone? What happens when Virgil, Ovid, or Shakespeare suspend their plots to describe a fictitious painting? In Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures, Leonard Barkan explores such questions as he examines the deliciously ambiguous history of the relationship between words and pictures, focusing on the period from antiquity to the Renaissance but offering insights that also have much to say about modern art and literature.
The idea that a poem is like a picture has been a commonplace since at least ancient Greece, and writers and artists have frequently discussed poetry by discussing painting, and vice versa, but their efforts raise more questions than they answer. From Plutarch ("painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture") to Horace ("as a picture, so a poem"), apparent clarity quickly leads to confusion about, for example, what qualities of pictures are being urged upon poets or how pictorial properties can be converted into poetical ones.
The history of comparing and contrasting painting and poetry turns out to be partly a story of attempts to promote one medium at the expense of the other. At the same time, analogies between word and image have enabled writers and painters to think about and practice their craft. Ultimately, Barkan argues, this dialogue is an expression of desire: the painter longs for the rich signification of language while the poet yearns for the direct sensuousness of painting.
to fail at the arrival of something newer. Now the competitiveness of artists or of the art market might be a sort of sidebar in the depiction of pride but for the problematic of mimesis, to which we must return. The imitative arts are by definition competitive. Competition among artists sits in parallel relation to competition between the arts: after all, Socrates showed us that poetry owes its very definition to the nexus of mimesis, comparison, and competition. Oderisi follows the case of
examination by asking me to define a diminished seventh chord. When I responded by saying that it was three minor thirds strung together, he threw up his hands and declared that that was like saying that a face was an eye, a nose, a mouth, and a second eye. In other words, I had enumerated the constituent parts of the object in question but conveyed nothing concerning its fundamental nature or its place in the scheme of things. I cannot now remember the correct answer about the diminished
among the precursors occasionally betrays (dare I admit it?) a deeper level of personal satisfaction with the ancients and the medievals as over against the early modern masterpieces that have so often been viewed as their triumphant pay-off, then there is one area where I am quite certain that the Renaissance was not merely reworking past practice, with whatever degree of originality, but was producing something quite new. As it happens, this realm of aesthetic accomplishment depends at least as
preexisting intention—in simple terms, the staging of a script or the completion of a commission. Hermione’s statue is the perfecting of her life and the earlier part of the play. The case of Timon is more complex. The painter, like everyone else in the play, unproductive and thoroughly corrupted by sycophancy, declares that promising counts for everything while performance is dull, unfashionable, and essentially a last will and testament on an intention that proves to be dying if it is carried
to Shakespeare’s Lucrece. For the two-thirds of the poem that are devoted to the sexual action itself, the poem is a monument to the dangers and frustration of rhetoric—the rapist’s elaborate arguments with himself and with Lucrece, her equally intricate counter-speeches (which only turn him on more), and the longest rhetorical tirade of all, after the grim event, as Lucrece apostrophizes opportunity, time, Tarquin, night, and the futility of making such speeches. She then spends two hundred