Reciprocity Between Paintings and Poems: An Explanation
This month I am sharing ideas excerpted from the preface of
my latest manuscript, Reciprocity: Selected Poems and Paintings,
which explores a phenomenon I have experienced 35 times while
painting and writing. The first time it happened was1998, soon
after my return to painting. I was uncharacteristically stalled
after starting a canvas. The tree dominating the left side of
the canvas had morphed into a woman. Was she a wood nymph? A
goddess? I was frustrated and hovering at that point, so I sat
down to write about what was on my mind. I needed to understand
this elusive subject. My jottings ended up being about a muse
who sent a "murder of crows to menace Vincent" and
"a solitary magpie" to Claude Monet, referencing two
well-known paintings I had had the pleasure of seeing first-hand
while wearing my museum shoes (Judy's Journal - January 2005).
When I returned to my painting, I saw that the figure of a
man had emerged in the blue-green ground covering the canvas.
He was turning into a bird. I completed his transformation and
attached an unwieldy title to it: "Transformation: The
Ornithologist Becomes an Augur." The theme was the nature
of inspiration. Months later, the writing I used to uncover
the subject became the poem, "Transformation" [Gestures
of Trees, Mellen Poetry Press, 2000]. I thought this painting/poem
combination was a coincidence or a fluke.
Even though approximately ninety percent of my poems and paintings
are not overtly related to each other, reciprocity happens repeatedly.
When I finished painting "Homeless," I felt a lack
of emotional resolution and satisfaction. The painting itself
was resolved, but the image of a homeless woman I had seen sitting
in a doorway in New York City haunted me. I was compelled to
write about her "legs jutting out, arms crossed over her
chest in a pious pose." and "the multi-colored palettes
of her bruised, broken nails." From the writing emerged
a poem, "The Year of Rita." Painting and poem were
bound together in response to an event in that literally took
a split second to occur, but many hours at my easel and word
processor to resolve.
I began to search for other artist/writers. Painter Marsden
Hartley (1877-1943) was also an accomplished writer and poet.
In an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut,
Hartley's poetry was displayed throughout the galleries. A short
elegiac poem about the two Mason brothers who were lost at sea
was posted next to his painting of them. The catalog states
that "[Fisherman's Last Supper] was the seed for Hartley's
climactic painting about the Masons," describing what could
be called a reciprocal relationship between his poetry and painting.
In fact, part of the pleasure of writing the manuscript's preface
came while studying the work of renowned poet/artists whose
lives span centuries: Jean Arp, William Blake, Marc Chagall,
E. E. Cummings, Leonardo da Vinci, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Roberto
Matta, Michelangelo, M. C. Richards, Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
and Dorothea Tanning. Edgar Degas wrote a sonnet about his sculpture,
"Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen." The longer I am a
member of a thriving community of poets and visual artists,
the more it is evident that I am one of a large group whose
reputations may not have reached iconic proportions, but who
nonetheless do the work of both.
The question I like to think about in all of this is "What
is the nature of inspiration with respect to the phenomenon
of reciprocity?" The answer is rooted in the need to act
upon a strong urge to create a response to an event, memory,
observation, or idea, coupled with an overwhelming sense of
curiosity about what will emerge as I write or paint. The need
can only be quieted when either a poem or painting is made.
However, when I finish one, something, someone, perhaps that
muse from the first "Transformation" painting, insists,
"There's more." My task is to remain open and ready
to do both.
Art making, and reciprocity in particular, begins with an intellectual
and psychological urge to explore what is on my mind. In The
Poet's Handbook, Judson Jerome wrote what must happen next:
he believes that poets have more than a need to verbalize or
express, but to take delight in the making of images, sounds,
to communicate to others, to create an effect on the viewer/reader.
He writes, "You use language to make an art object."
In making a reciprocal poem and painting, I move beyond my inner
life and personal expression to make something outside of myself.
While my intention is that each painting and poem has its own
integrity, one is also integrally bound to the other.
Speaking of being integrally bound, next month's journal will
focus on something that is, unfortunately, a part of the creative
process: rejection. Writer and Boston Globe columnist Don Murray
said, "There's not a lot to learn from rejection."
That may be true, but I think there are strategies to help us
get through the experience. So, writers and artists, if the
word "rejection" triggers a memory of what worked
to get you through it, email me at email@example.com.