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Poetic Thinking 2016 | January 17, 2020

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Scott Weiss

I want to revisit a distinction we tried to make in class last week between art and poetry.  We struggled with the question of whether one lay beneath the other’s umbrella, and if so, which category subsumed the other.  As a classical philologist, I naturally consider the etymologies to the two terms: Latin ars and Greek poiēsis.  At our first meeting, we discussed the idea of poiēsis as creation.  Ars means skill or craft, its Greek equivalent being technē.  The two terms do not conflict with one another but rely on one another: skillful creation or creative skill.

Art tends to evoke the visual and poetry the written, but even in antiquity the line blurred.  The Roman poet Horace began his Ars poetica with a discussion of painting as an analogy for poetry (ut pictura poesis), and Simonides (one of Horace’s many Greek models) famously wrote that “painting is silent poetry, and poetry painting that speaks.”  Lessing absorbed these ideas in his treatise Laocoön and formulated the distinction that poetry works temporally and painting spatially.  I think we will ultimately find such a distinction unsatisfying.  Part of our collective project, it seems, is to understand poetics broadly.  We may think in terms of relationships and interactions across media, but hierarchies and divisions run counter to our enterprise.  I’ll continue to think about ars and poiēsis and the extent to which they are useful categories for articulating poetic thinking across media.


  1. conor lauesen

    Hey Scott,

    I really enjoyed reading your post: your knowledge of classical antiquity, linguistic nuance and theoretical frameworks are all impressive and helpful. Thank you for this. A few comments, thoughts I had when considering your ideas:

    1) Painting, ‘Vulcan at the Forge,’ – when I see this painting the ontological issues of ‘Making’ resound: it seems to thus also be one of many paintings ideal for our class, most generally.
    To create out of materials, bleeding forms and liquidation of metals sculpted into new ‘solid shapes/bodies/vessels.’

    2) Gaston Bachelard and his writing on the elemental—specially the life of materials and his book, ‘Air and Dreams.’ Maybe we can talk more about his work and process in class.

    3) Rubens and the cultivation of his home, workshop and painting process. To me this becomes very much materialized in his garden. Atop the gates of this verdant and immaculately constructed space, the goddess ‘Hermathena’ (wisdom/eloquence and the arts/poetics) stands. I’ve thought about how this figure embodies the desires and Eros of Rubens: the mythical and cosmological signification, interior garden worldscape replete with alchemic mist, the liquidation of sculpted materiality transmutating solidity to fluidity

    4) Moonwalking with Einstein, The recent book published by Joshua Foer. His introduction addresses Simonides as poet and collected/rememberEr of History: the process and function memory, visualization of momentous events, and a kind of necromantic impetus dovetail to create Foer’s reading of remembrance (the shape/role/construction of memory at large)

    5) Last, I am always mesmerized by the profundity of the relational model of poetry and painting. Your mentioning of I wanted to think also about photography as poetry: the fragment, the sublimely poetic, the unutterable. Perhaps thinking of paintings as having another kinship with the poetic prose of the Novels/Literary Form in general. Issues of narrative, myth, and epic driven proportionality juxtaposed to the poetics / stillness /silence of photographs

  2. *Velazquez, 1629-30, ‘Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan’ (1)

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