Poetry & Painting: 


Monday 23rd March 2020, Faculty of English, Oxford

                                                             You know how  

I feel about painters. I sometimes think poetry  

only describes.  


                          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. 

Keynote speakers


T. J. Clark is a British art historian and writer. He has taught art history in a number of universities in England and the United States, including Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Clark is the author of a series of books on the social character and formal dynamics of modern art. His latest publications include 'The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing' (2006); 'Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica' (2013); a book accompanying an exhibition at Tate Britain, co-authored with Anne M. Wagner, 'Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life' (2013), and most recently, 'Heaven on Earth: Painting and the Life to Come' (2018). He is a regular writer for the London Review of Books.

T. J. Clark

Kathryn Murphy is a literary critic and scholar at Oriel College, University of Oxford. Her interests lie in several areas: literature and philosophy in the seventeenth century; the genre of the essay from Montaigne to the present; letters and alphabets (written, printed, engraved, baked, stitched, heard, and imagined); the production of images as ways of thinking or representing knowledge especially in still life; and the relationship between poetic form, rhetorical figure, and theological and philosophical ideas. She is a regular contributor to Apollo: The International Art Magazine, for which she has recently written on curtains and trompe-l'oeil, and on Dutch meal still lifes. Her latest project is a study of the aesthetic, visual, mystical, and metaphorical significance of alphabets in the period 1550-1780. 

Kathryn Murphy

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