Friday, August 17, 2007

Thought for the Day

Still lifes, too, can carry overtones and meaning beyond the simple representation of of the objects presented, and sometimes they are expressly symbolic, as, for example, astrolabes and compasses are symbolic of learning, musical instruments are of the arts, and food for our quotidian need for nourishment. But simple kitchen appurtenances can be rendered with such devotional attention as to amount almost to what the poet W.H. Auden defines as prayer. Auden wrote, "Whenever a man so concentrates his attention––be it on a landscape or a poem or a geometrical problem or an idol or the True God,––then he completely forgets his own ego and desires in listening to what the other [by which Auden means, in the case of painting, the subject] has to say to him, he is praying." We recognize this "prayer" in what we loosely call the astonishing "fidelity" of certain kinds of painterly effect, though in truth it has nothing to do with fidelity, being as much a matter of illusion as, for example, Cubist painting. But a painter's success at presenting the sensation of the slime of fish, the softness of fur, the visual complexity of a bossed and knobbed glass goblet, half filled with wine, and lit with the convex diminished image of a distant mullioned window––these attest to a superior attention to the world we all inhabit, along with an ability to translate that world into a pigmented, precise record.

-Anthony Hecht, from "Poetry and Painting," in On the Laws of the Poetic Art (Princeton University Press,
1995), p. 15.


The Painting is Fish and Oyster, or Still Life with Fish (1864) by Edouard Manet, in the collection of the Chicago Institute of Art


Blogger Talia said...


I stayed up late last night reading Holding. I'm nearly half-way through (lots of poems in there) and I'm really loving it. It is layered thick. More on that later.

9:16 AM  
Blogger jenni said...

I love this painting and excerpt. Thanks!

11:25 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

This reminds me of a passage I loved from Alain De Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life, on Proust’s description in In Search of Lost Time of a still life by Chardin: “A skate, slit open and hanging from a hook, evoked the sea of which it had been a fearsome denizen in its lifetime. Its insides, colored with deep red blood, blue nerves, and white muscles, were like the naves of a polychrome cathedral.” It’s how when something is really “listened to,” it opens up another world—the power of that metaphor: the naves of a polychrome cathedral.

12:28 PM  

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