Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Painting and Poetry: Creations that Inspire Creation

The El Greco to Picasso exhibit now at the Guggenheim is truly amazing. Throughout the winding inner shell of the Guggenheim, hundreds of paintings offer a wider range of contributions than ever seen outside of Spain itself. The setup itself is what really sets this exhibit apart. Rather than offer a simple chronological scheme, great care was taken to offer a contrast between modern and classical artists based on thematic content. For example, on one wall sits Juan Pantoja de la Cruz's The Infantes Don Felipe and Doña Ana, 1607. Next to it: Picasso's Two Seated Children (Claude and Paloma), 1950. The composition of both paintings is nearly identical, but the marked difference in style shows the contrast between modern and classical interpretation of subject matter. There's no reason to imitate the masters of long ago in their style. The world has changed. Take the form, place it in the modern context and make it as charged as a Corvette on high-octane.

For a poet, this contrast is a revelation and inspiration. As a poet, whenever I feel stuck or doubtful, I don't turn to the masters of poetry. I look at art. Several years ago in San Francisco, I was working on a piece and lost confidence. I couldn't shake the feeling--I knew the core of the piece was great, but something was holding me back. After banging my head against a wall for a few days, and still getting nowhere, I took a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art and had a look around. The featured painter in the exhibit was Robert Ryman. His featured work? Surface Veil III, 1971, a 12 foot x 12 foot piece painted on white canvas using only white paint. White paint on white canvas? The nerve! The comments around the room were universally derogatory. But I was fascinated. From a distance, the piece looked like a blank page. Up close, you could see every brush stroke, carefully placed, beautifully capturing light in fantastically subtle ways. The fact that it was created made it worthy of attention. Had it never been created, had the artist lost confindence, not only would the painting itself had been lost, so would all that it inspired. I went home, sat down and the poem flowed out of me like it never had been any other way.


Above, top: Juan Pantoja de la Cruz's The Infantes Don Felipe and Doña Ana, 1607. Next to it: Picasso's Two Seated Children (Claude and Paloma), 1950; bottom: Robert Ryman, Surface Veil III, 1971

1 comment:

Karen said...

Cool. Illustrations. The blog technology learning curve progresses. Good story, too.