Poetry & Painting:
Monday 23rd March 2020, Faculty of English, Oxford
You know how
I feel about painters. I sometimes think poetry
Frank O’Hara, ‘John Button Birthday’ (1957)
The supposed similarity between poetry and painting was famously characterized in Horace's ‘Ars Poetica’ by the dictum ‘ut pictura poesis’ (‘as is painting, so is poetry’). Yet in 1766, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing influentially argued for the limits that condition these different art forms — how could a visual scream ever be rendered linguistically?
The intense and ambivalent relationship between the so-called “sister arts” of poetry and painting has long been a subject of critical enquiry. Poets and painters have, throughout history, referred to the possibilities and limitations of their chosen art in relation to its sisterly rival.
The multiple tensions and affinities shared by these expressive forms are fruitful topics of political, social and philosophical discussion. In a ‘composite’ art, WJT Mitchell argues, poetry and painting demonstrate “an energetic rivalry, a dialogue or dialectic between vigorously independent modes of expression”. How constructive is the notion of the 'composite' in accounting for this relationship? Do poetry and painting converse happily, or are they forever fixed in competitive combat?
This one-day symposium seeks to ignite and develop critical conversations about the interplay between the sister arts.