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Poetry and Paradox

Thank you to Suzanne Moss yesterday for her RIP regarding the investigation of the poetics of painting, particularly the contribution that colour and surface relationships provide to the evocation of luminosity.  I thought that discussions of some of the questions that were raised by the audience may  engender some helpful dialogue.  Personally,  the question broached regarding the relationship between an artist’s intentions and the creation of a ‘poetic’ painting I thought interesting; as was the general question of what constitutes the poetics in painting and what language may be used to describe it.  Is it predominately a perceptual experience or can it be analysed, discussed and intentionally created?  I would of assumed that all of us use an analytical approach to some degree as we select processes and materials, thus how do we avoid creating of a contrived didactic painting rather than poetic work?  Look forward to any comments, maybe Suzanne would like to include some of her key observations?

Sky Embrace, Suzanne Moss

Sky Embrace, Suzanne Moss


April 23, 2009 - Posted by | PG seminar | , ,


  1. I also found Suzanne’s presentation valuable and inspiring. Some people exude poetic sensibilities, like Suzanne, my definition of poetics being uplifting or delicate/subtle enough for emotive spatial awareness to open when experiencing the work. I also find the evocative descriptions poetic in literature can translate in painting, with texture or a sense of materials, just like applied details operating in a similar way. Its their connection with physical sensation.

    Comment by vanessa | April 24, 2009 | Reply

  2. Do you think the connection with physical sensations, which might be triggered by material effects or other details, is related to what they subconsciously remind us of? Memories of personal and emotional experiences which occured coincidentally to visual ones?
    Is it a result of the relationships in the work and the way things are organised?
    Is it a result of the way the mind works in the process of the making?
    I think its misleading to say “or” or “or”…….but what are the ways we can speak of this?

    Comment by Vivienne | April 25, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’m sad to have missed Suzanne’s WIP. I very much wanted to attend as I’ve had to reel myself back from venturing recklessly into this area (ie painting and poetics) in my Dissertation. To paraphrase my very kind supervisor, it sounded like I was preparing to reinvent the language of formalism. I would have kicked me out of the room immediately.
    But in the brief process of considering the time honoured alliance between painting and poetry, it seemed to me that the relationship suggests a structural similarity: what poetry does with language, painting does with “the visual”. Perhaps this is saying no more than the obvious – that both the P’s take existing structures (“ordinary” or instrumental language and vision) and, in various ways “recalibrate” them in ways which open out onto (or is that “into) the realm of feeling – as Vanessa says above. It sounds like the discussion was on to something with the she mentions to physical sensation – or at least some form of embodiment. One need look no further than a late Cezanne for proof of this. There is also surely a connection to the discussion about the “imaginative” dimension to human experience once understood as equal to perceived “reality” (sorry I can find the page on the blog that refers to the Radio National program – I think it was connected to Kabir’s reading).
    Of course I am betraying my preference for a poetics of the “ordinary” as it is played out in a genre like still life – that quintessentially borderline genre: riding the boundary between figuration and abstraction. To extend the metaphor, one of my favourite texts is the Intro to Yves Alain Bois’ Painting as Model called “Resisting Blackmail”. In it he describes the “territory” that limits (quite literally) the articulation of painting as a practice. Short of reinventing the language of formalism (the last serious crack at articulating poetics in painting), maybe it is up to painters in research programs like this to start moving the pegs, little by little.

    Comment by 6845ju | April 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. The RIP was terrific; I was also a bit puzzled by the apparent criticism of Suzanne’s use of analysis and analytical terms. Isn’t this just a tool we use to understand complex issues? Poetics implies to me the whole being greater than the sum of its parts; something magical that may (or may not) happen when you make something. In that sense analysis may seem to destroy the thing we’re trying to understand, but how else are we to understand it…?

    Comment by Julie | April 27, 2009 | Reply

  5. thanks Nicky, Jude, Vanessa, Julie and Viv for your comments and compliments. i will try to respond from my post WIP state. Nicky…your question of whether poetics is a predominantly perceptual experience or can it be analysed… Of course a sense of the poetic may be part of the beholder’s experience, and that is mediated via their perception and processes through any number of pathways and determined by so many variables it is bewildering. the massive area of aesthetics extends well beyond my concern although i do consider the sublime and give the reason i chose ‘poetic’ as being about the caring/humanitarian nature of poetry (according to Berger). My search was to identify aspects of the poetic experience of painting that could foster discussion about the other than purely formal,but inextricably linked to the formal aspects of painting. my way into that was through the writing of John Berger and to a lesser degree, Barthes with his voice of banality and voice of singularity. considerations re the ‘sheltering of an experience’ the relation between aspects of visual language, the encompassing of time in the work, the question of what the absent subject is, where it is and the breaking of space – these poetic qualities arise from Berger and are able to be discussed. it is for my own good you see – i have so often been tongue-tied in front of paintings! the questions and answers to these considerations are necessarily vague and speculative – i don’t see a problem with this, (although many people might), especially after reading in Sullivan (Practice as Research) about a science report on genetic research which used a surprising range of metaphors to describe their findings.
    my venture into the employment of colour as light and materiality of surface were just two aspects of painting that i could have chosen, but colour has been a major concern, and materiality of surface has been of more recent concern in my Studio Reserch reinforced by finding those few interesting writers on the subject, although their attention was limited.
    Vivienne, i think your questions are very relevant and hold true for me at least, especially the first question. i did not speak about my investigations into materiality of surface or colour as light due to the time constraints and that we know a lot about these through our understandings of formal analysis already. my entire Dissertation could have been just on this part, but perhaps i could speak again at some stage on the whole Material Visual Poetic Model. As an example of the materiality of surface considerations, Elkins suggests that the body knows substances (What Painting is) – the dryness, the wateriness and the fieriness of pigments, relating them to the alchemical triangle. this might seem odd, but he provides a basic structure within which to discuss materiality, and this is uncommon. materiality of surface is a very interesting area and was not even considered by critics until early 20thC.
    i like the way you put it Jude, very much – thankyou. many comments seem obvious but are not, as poetics has really been off the radar with the postmodern rise of metonymy and seeming fall of the metaphor. now that the young british artists are not so young any more, but incredibly rich and famous, i don’t know where we are in relation to trends! time to re-invent…reminds me of great top i had ‘re-use, recycle, re-make, re etc… the similarity in terms of structure between poetry and painting, relates to what Berger says about the poem being about the relation between words and what Marjorie Boulton writes about in her ‘Anatomy of Poetry’ from the 1950’s as giving form to the formless, since written about in relation to painting.
    i enjoy very much a poetics of the ordinary – and illustrate this in applying the ideas on poetics to my observations of the Morandi exhibition at the Met which i saw in december. the more i look at Morandi’s work though the less ordinary it seems! same goes for your work Jude. where does the magic come from? i don’t feel any wiser but at least i can talk about it more easily!
    finally, the criticism about the use of analytical terms – i didn’t take this as a criticism and should have articulated at the time that this is a good thing. you would have heard me say that i wish to integrate Logos and Eros in my work – I have for some time now sought the integration of opposites the co-existance of seeming contradictions, in short – paradox! However, i am concerned that my paintings are ‘logos heavy’ and i don’t know what to do about that right now. it is a time of transition and re-evaluation. thanks again everyone. please call me on anything that doesn’t make sense.

    Comment by suzmoss | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  6. I suppose if I my add my understanding of painting’s poetics; I understand it as a perceptual response triggered by contemplating a painting that is the result of an imaginative engagement of the viewer’s memory. The associations may be clear or operate subliminally. So I reckon I’m agreeing with Viv’s comments up until whether the poetics of a painting are established by the way the mind of the painter is working in the process of making. If this is the case do the works speak to people that think in a similar manner; i.e. similar aesthetic sensibilites?? We all have different content in our memories, so can any painting only make poetry for a limited audience, those who will form some sort of associated thought or emotive process.
    Apart from poetics, what about paradox, what is meant by this. Is it more than the tension between the materialilty of the paint/surface and whatever illusion is created?

    Comment by nickyjdickson | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  7. I have been trying to realise exactly what memory or associated thought is being evoked when I experience the uplifting sensations in response to Suzanne’s work. The subtle shifts in hue and the luminosity are important contributors which indicate pure physiological sensation. Can this be at all separate to memory? Although the cultural memory constructing our perception is impossible to ignore. Associations with the brilliant light of the sky, the colours we associate with the spiritual and the optical illusion that engages vision. Texture could be viewed as another avenue to explore poetics, the current transitional tensions in the work may shift once texture gains a poetic ascendancy over illusion.

    Comment by vanessa | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  8. I find the associations are working the other way now – I can’t look at the sky in the evening without thinking about Suzanne’s paintings. I don’t know if I thought about a specific kind of light when I first saw the paintings – I think maybe not. And I think this is because the paintings begin to glow the longer I look: at first I don’t know what I’m seeing, so I don’t make assumptions about it. This not-knowing seems to create a balance with the structural (logos) elements. Also – if the colours were less structured and more amorphous wouldn’t the whole thing become more illusionistic (clouds in the sky, sunset, dawn etc) and so more limited?

    Comment by juliebrooke | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  9. thankyou Nicky, Vanessa and Julie – for your insights, valuable in terms of indicating where i need to think through and explain myself with greater clarity. firstly, i am writing from the position of the beholder. i don’t believe it is possible to set out to make a poetic work. i suspect that an inspired piece of music, poetry, painting, or any artform may be poetic – very like the descriptive use of the term ‘elegant’ today in Gail’s lecture.
    poetic paradox as i discuss it, is limited to that tension between the employment of colour as light and the painted materiality that it causes on the surface. there can be any other paradoxical issues that you choose! the overarching paradox is that a thing made of stuff can evoke the ineffable, or poetic experience. sometimes it can be quite a major effect on the beholder as discussed by James Elkins in Pictures and Tears. My stance is reactive to the usual ravings about paintings evoking serenity and other quite simple responses. i think responses to paintings can be quite complex and paradoxical, and likely to be due to the inter-relations of other formal qualities besides those i’ve chosen to focus on.
    Vanessa, none of our cerebral functions are separate or isolated but richly linked to memory – each sensory area has its own memory area as well if my memory serves me correctly!
    also see Merleau-Ponty’s tome on phenomenology. He beleives we are naturally synaesthetic.
    Texture creates its own illusions of space too. viewing distance is a crucial factor. i was really surprised by this in Turner’s paintings. will explain more later – it feeds into my conclusion that i haven’t completed.
    Julie – I’m delighted! the connection back to natural phenomena completes a cycle of experience and response. i don’t know the answer to your last question – and it is a good question. i like the speculation that the not-knowing creates a balance with the structure. this balance is what I want and seems to be the case in some of the (square) paintings and not others.
    i’ll be hanging work for review from around 2pm on monday afternoon if anyone wants to call in to the drawing room for a chat.
    thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

    Comment by suzmoss | April 29, 2009 | Reply

  10. I’ve been amazed and delighted by the way “poetics in painting” has captured attention and response. On my last reading some days ago I wanted to hear everyone bring it back to their own practice, drop in the empirical direct from experience – think of works where the poetics operate very successfully, and remember what happened in the making. I’d still like to hear that as well as reflections on the many questions implied or actual in comments.

    Comment by Vivienne | May 3, 2009 | Reply

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