On art writing

Recently I have found writings on poetry to be much more relevant for visual art, than specialized visual art writing, such as reviews, catalogue texts or research papers. Writings on poetry, and especially texts on poetry written by poets, seem to grasp art more directly, even if the poet’s language are poetic -and by definition – less specific than ordinary, everyday language. I have found texts on poetry to be much better at transmitting the sensation of art; what art feels like, what it’s like to be experiencing art.

Regarding art writing I have started to wonder: has the viewers’ point of view been overlooked? Has the professional art milieu, the trendsetting magazines and galleries – the art writing establishment – reduced the art audience to a handful of specialists? And if so: isn’t this in art’s disinterest? A disservice to art?

See how Mark Strand writes about poetry, his thoughts can easily be transferred to the field of visual art: 


…, sometimes poems aren’t literal representations of anything. Sometimes a poem just exists as something else in the universe that you haven’t encountered before.

If you want a poem to say what it means, right away, clearly—and of course the poet who writes that kind of poem is usually talking about his or her own experiences—well, what happens when you read that kind of poem is that it puts you back in the world that you know. The poem makes that world seem a little more comfortable, because here is somebody else who has had an experience like yours.

But you see, these little anecdotes that we read in these poems and that we like to believe are true, are in fact fictions. They represent a reduction of the real world. There’s so much in our experience that we take for granted—we don’t need to read poems that help us to take those things even more for granted.

People like John Ashbery or Stevens do just the opposite—they try to explode those reductions. There’s a desire in Ashbery, for example, to create perfect non sequiturs, to continually take us off guard. He creates a world that is fractured. It doesn’t imitate reality. But, looking at it from another point of view, you could say that it’s simply a world that is as fractured and as unpredictable as the world in which we move every day.



Agnes MartinHomage to Greece (1959). Oil, canvas collage and nails laid on panel


As I see it, one can easily swap from poem/poetry to art, and Mark Strand’s ideas will still make perfect sense!


… there’s an element of delight in these people who rearrange reality. We usually hang on to the predictability of our experiences to such an extent … and there’s nowhere else where one can escape that as thoroughly as one can in certain poets’ work. When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger … in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive—not as routinely there.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    There is a lot of money to be made selling art. It has to exclude the “non specialists” to create value.

    There is no money in poetry.

    I am told, there are efforts being made to own the water of the world. I suppose bottled it might be worth more. It sweats from the pores the poorest person, but it is less often valued.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Interesting comment.

      Apropos water: In Norway we have generally great water quality; drinking tap water is absolutely recommended. Still we buy bottled water, not only do we pay a lot of money for it; we also pollute our environment by producing unnecessary plastic bottles.

      Destroying nature – just for fun …

      1. Rio says:

        I was in a mood.

        Humans have a habit of trying to quantify everything.

        Sometimes our awareness is not in conflict with what is arising, Our grip on being a “self” loosens briefly and it is as if we cease to be. It seems very profound, extraordinary.

        Poetry and art are constantly arising. We usually don’t recognize that when we get out of the way of what is arising whether it is the need to eat or sleep or clean up or lend assistance or arrange our collar or a strand of hair, it is never less than art. When we contrive too much we always do damage.

        A specialist should be simply someone who is clear.

  2. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Great observation. As a poet I’ve known for decades that it’s artists who are my brothers and sisters, not novelists and journalists. Partially, I think it’s because of a shared ability to read in detail, across boundaries.

    1. Sigrun says:

      seeing across boundaries, a talent for noting things easily overlooked.

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