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Art and poetry: the language of life

March 11, 2011

sketches of maps from an aerial view 

Lucille Clifton, a poet, said this:

     “For too long poetry has been seen as an elite activity that only happens in the academy, but poetry is a very human urge and there have always been people attempting to express themselves in poems. I think there’s a great renaissance of poetry in this country, and I think that we are beginning to remember that the first poets didn’t come out of a classroom.

     Poetry began when somebody walked off a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ah-h-h!” That was the first poem. The urge towards “Ah-h-h!” is very human, it’s in everybody. People express it in different ways, and I think the world is beginning to recognize that that urge in themselves is also poetry. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that only certain things are poetry.”

She is talking to Bill Moyers in his book of interviews with poets, The Language of Life. “Art” could substituted for “poetry” in her statement and it would be equally true. We all participate in language and have some facility in using it to communicate. Poetry, however, changes our appreciation of language because it extends the possibilities of words beyond the utilitarian.

Art does something parallel as a visual form of language. It extends the possibilities of seeing beyond the common experience. When artists create an image or an object, it’s a new bit of reality that can stimulate the same appreciation as the direct experience of something concrete (looking at a painted sunset stirring memories of seeing  it in real life) or it can create an entirely new experience. This is a powerful idea—that art can give form to images that may not have an immediate reference in personal experience.

oil pastel sketchAnd here’s my pitch for abstract art: it can be the bridge between the familiar and the unknown. It allows us to drift and exercise our creativity. It returns us to ingredients: color, shape, texture, luminosity, and from this we can play with meaning.

Abstract art causes us to stray away from the recognizable and move into what we can imagine.

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