Thursday, November 09, 2006

Notes On: Ekphrasis

John Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" is a great example of ekphrasis, illustrating the poet's encounter with an engraved urn that leaves him struck by the struggle to accurately represent life:

Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

What is Ekphrasis?
Ekphrasis is considered a rhetorical device in which one art tries to relate to another art by defining and describing the essence and form of that original art, and in doing so, "speak to you" through its illuminative liveliness. A descriptive work of prose or one of poetry, a film, or even a photograph may thus highlight through its rhetorical vividness what is happening, or what is shown in, say, any of the visual arts, and in doing so, may enhance the original art and so take on a life of its own through its brilliant description. And as art is often the subject, if not the inspiration, for many poems, or works of prose it presents a great challenge: how does one verbalize the visual? How does one capture the emotion, energy and spirit of a piece of art with a pen?

Ekphrasis can include description of the art, or it can include enactment of the encounter in art. Sometimes it includes analysis, not only of what is seen, but of how and why such a subject is particular to the writer's existence.

Attempt an Ekphrasis
  • Choose a painting or a sculpture that interests you. (Sometimes, something you know too well isn't the best choice because there is less opportunity for discovery.)
  • Choose a voice for the person within the painting. (If the painting is an abstract or a still life, you may write as an object or as the paint itself.)
  • Write as the painter.
  • Write as you, the poet, perceiving the art.
Which voice do you like best? Which voice gained the most knowledge, and which voice wonders the most (and do you prefer knowing to wondering)? Is there a subject emerging, one you didn't know about when you began? Determine if all three sections work together, or choose the one(s) that you think are promising, and revise the work to your vision.

Ekphrasis-Related Links:
Ekphrais-poiema (Blog with examples)
Quintile Ekphrasis workshop (online Yahoo Group)

Recommended Reading:
Aristotle's On Rhetoric

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