A couple of years ago whilst studying English Literature at university, an essay title that was proposed to me suggested exploring the relationship between visual and literary art. Far from cowering away at the thought of finding a link between two very different concepts, I must have sensed my career in contemporary art awaiting me, as I took on the task at full force. To kick-start my creative process I headed down to the Turner Contemporary Museum in Margate (the only glimpse of modernity in what I would call a time-warp town), leading to more ideas than I could have hoped for.
Displayed in the museum were exhibits by Rosa Barba, called ‘The Personal Experience Behind It’s Description’ alongside ‘The Indifferent Back of a View Rather Than Its Face’. Her works show how words are able to be pieces of both visual and literary art, as the actual words within the artwork are not of main importance; it is the shapes of the words and the experimentation of materials used that makes the final piece.
This got me thinking: what other connections are there between literary art (poems, books etc.) and visual art? I decided that the best way to explore these links would in fact be to consider how a piece of literary art examines the art world within it’s text, and I suitably chose Frank O’Hara’s poem ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’. My first thought after reading his poem was that there are similarities in the initial processes involved in the act of creation. The first stanza explains the process of creating a painting by describing how ‘Mike Goldberg / is starting a painting’ and ‘[t]he painting / is going on, and I go, and the days / go by.’ This demonstrates how visual art, including painting, is a progression that requires a longer amount of time to complete, showing how an initial idea is built upon gradually turning into a series of ideas.
This is paralleled with the process of creating literary art; the similarity of the two is shown by stating ‘I write a line / about orange. Pretty soon it is a / whole page of words, not lines. / Then another page.’ This portrays that the act of creating a work of art, whether it be a painting, a sculpture or a mixed media exhibit, goes through the same stages as writing a piece of text. Each act of creation has a starting point that is based upon an idea, which is developed to produce an end result. The development of both these arts are continuously changing, highlighting the flexibility that writers and artists possess in order to achieve their final piece. Thus the emphasis here is placed not on the end result, but on how the concept of art is also the creative process that the poem and the painting endure to get to this ultimate stage.
By highlighting the importance of the creative process, the difference in the end results and the similarity in the starting points are made more apparent. Both literary and visual art start with a ‘blank page’; in the writer’s case this is a sheet of paper (or in modern times a ‘blank document’ on Microsoft Word) and in the artists’ case it is often a canvas. The separation of the two arts occurs primarily with their use of differential palettes, which are the medias used to form their works. The two have originated from the same concept, which is using a ‘blank page’ to express a single idea, however in ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’, O’Hara is also able to show the similarities of the end results - the ‘artist’s’ original starting points are not displayed in the outcome. It is expressed within his poem that Mike Goldberg’s painting SARDINES ‘is finished’ yet does not display a sardine in a shape or form, and that O’Hara’s poem ORANGES ‘is finished’ but hasn’t ‘mentioned / orange yet.’ This shows that both literary and visual art are equivalent in how they are able to stem from and depict entirely different results than what is first intended, and that the title of a work is merely the surface to the creative process consisting of the finished set of ideas that have been developed.
What strikes me whilst writing this though is that I cannot ignore how similarly to O’Hara poems, I have deliberately shaped my placement of words so that this post is aesthetically pleasing, in order to invite you, the reader, to start reading this blog. And furthermore, I can produce an image displaying my work that is in progress, thanks to the technological genius of screen printing. Am I not creating my own form of art work then, that can be perceived as visual? Rosa Barba has commented that her ‘work can’t really be defined by just one thing’ and after consideration, I believe this statement is relevant to literary art in whatever form - it is indefinable and can be perceived as more than ‘just / letters’ on a page.
Eye Like Gallery.