Art instigate art

Lately Edward Hirsch has been influencing my way of thinking about art. Hirsch says things like “the purpose of poetry is not first and foremost to inspire the writer, but to inspire the reader”, and “there is not enough talk about emotions in contemporary criticism”. He is preoccupied by – and gives great importance to – the reader’s experience. He is looking at the poem as a relational affaire.

And, as if this relational affaire wasn’t enough, I suddenly discovered him talking about one of my all time favorite topics – namely the concept of ekphrasis

The challenge in ekphrastic poetry, the big question is; what do you – as a poet – bring to the table? it is not enough to describe what’s already there, you have to add something to the picture; enlarge it, renew it – argue with it …


What you, as a reader or a viewer, naturally bring to a work of art, are your own feelings. The ekphrastic text is therefore a meeting between a kind of intellectual objectifying of the work of art, and the poet’s/essayist’s personal, subjective feelings about what she sees.

It made me think: Maybe we can understand the ekphrastic writing-process as a model for art encounters in a wider sense. Not all of us write about what we read or see, but if the artwork we encounter is to make sense for us, we must let our own thoughts and feelings mix into what’s already there (the art object), and let the art object seep into us.


If you like to know more about Edward Hirsch, have a look at this:

4 Comments Add yours

  1. as per your photo… the sky is alive… 🙂

    1. the sky is alive…
      thou I must take my leave…
      for the night shadows lean long now
      and home beckons a timely return

  2. I’ve seen him read and also be interviewed on stage/on panels. I like some of Hirsch’s books very much; I might quibble, though, with what the reader brings to the poem (or to the story or novel or work of art). It’s not always feelings the reader brings, but his or her own experience and, perhaps, expectations? What the relationship each reader has with the poem is likely to vary with those things, not just with the reader’s emotions.

    But I think in general Hirsch offers some wonderful (almost ecstatic) insights.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I don’t know what Hirsch would say about this, but I definitively agree with you: The reader brings herself in full to the art work, and the experience is unique & individual. But what interest me the most right now (and here it is my “critic persona” who is in charge) is how we write about these genuine, personal meetings in a way that make sense to a wider audience.

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