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.