Thursday, 15 October 2015

Poetry and Art

In respect of the title, I refer to painting.

There are numerous examples of poetry written as a result of the poet's connection with visual art. Examples include "The Man with the Blue Guitar" (Wallace Stevens, 1937), based on Picasso's The Old Guitarist; "Mourning Picture" (Adrienne Rich, 1965), based on Edwin Elmer's painting of the same name; "Hunters in the Snow" (William Carlos Williams, 1962), based on Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting, also so-named. Other examples by W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Jennings, and Monica Youn reinforce the inspirational aspect of poets seeking to re-determine the subtleties expressed in brushstrokes of oil on canvas.

There is a commonality on this approach among art forms. Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, based on works of his friend, the painter Victor Hartmann, is a case in point. Yet, while there is a commonality of artistic sensibility, there are also differences. It could be described as an exercise in 'Chinese whispers' where the original message, passed then from person to person, concludes upon the final hearing as something completely different to that intended. We interpret the world individually, uniquely, and it could be argued that the interpretation of subjects between artistic disciplines lends itself to a charge of grand indulgence, even though the resulting, reactive art form may well stand perfectly well in its own right.

Recently, there was report from an American biochemist who had been studying mud samples from an extraordinarily deep lake, known for its naturally occurring high arsenic content. To her team's amazement, the arsenic-rich mud was teeming with microscopic life. The team then isolated particular 'interesting' examples and applied still heavier doses of arsenic; the microbes thrived.

The scientists' conclusion was that one of two things might be happening. Firstly, the microbes might represent a form of life based on 'base root' DNA, that is, a subbranch of DNA billions of years old that never changed, while other branches of DNA evolved into life as we recognise it today. It should be remembered that oxygen itself served as a poison to early life forms, and only through adaptation did some forms survive and thrive.

Secondly, and perhaps more important was the idea that these arsenic-dwellers might in fact represent an even earlier form of life, and that all life since then was generated by a second movement, in which case it could be stated that life appeared on this planet on more than one occasion. The importance of the latter notion is that life appearing under such conditions might well be replicated on other planets under conditions that we might not recognise as life-enhancing.

This 'otherness' is reflected too in the exchange between the arts, the interpretive, combative quality impossibly surviving in airless, poisonous, primordial ooze, masquerading in stanzas and delicate strokes of Naples Yellow.

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