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Transcript of EKPHRASIS
Before we examine William Carlos William's poem, we should first go over the Bruegel painting that inspired it.
The painting by Pieter Breugel captures the day that Icarus attempted to fly and plummeted to the ocean. In this painting it's spring; there are images of farming, of herds of animals, and of merchant vessels at sea. There's also a tiny set of legs and a little splash where Icarus hits the ocean.
ART ABOUT ART
Origin & Evolution
The term 'Ekphrasis' claims its origins from the
language as “ex” and “phrazein,” the literal translation being
In ancient cultures, with few methods of publication, ekphrasis meant the
verbal recollection or description of an object
In ancient Greece, philosophers such as Plato and Socrates analyzed everything, including art and literature. They used the term “ekphrasis” for the practice of describing or representing anything from the real world in a work of art. Ekphrasis referred to art, mainly paintings and sculptures directly
from objects, people and situations in
One of the earliest recorded explanations of ekphrasis is in
(376 BC), Republic, where he uses the example of a
and discusses the concept of
as an analogy for ekphrasis.
Plato's "Bed & Bedness" analogy
A bed is defined as an object and bedness refers to all the different forms a bed can take depending on the angle it is looked at and how it is reconstructed or replicated.
Plato philosophizes that there are three possible creators of a bed:
1) God, who created the one and only original bed which exists in nature (which can be understood to be the idea, or the need of a bed);
2) The carpenter, the maker of the physical or the real bed, and
3) The painter, who superimposes an image of the real bed onto the canvas (or whatever is being drawn on).
Through Plato’s analogy of bed and bedness, ekphrasis can be understood to be the imitation of a previously established creative idea or art form by its representation or re-creation as another art form.
During the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, the term ekphrasis enjoyed a
contemporary resurgence of popularity
despite a certain amount of critical debate as what exactly constitutes an ekphrastic description.
With the spread of print forms such as books, ekphrasis was mainly a concept that occurred in
Many scholars defined the term ekphrasis in their own unique way; to quote a few:
Tamar Yacobi states that "ekphrasis has become an umbrella term that subsumes various forms of rendering the
visual object into words
James Heffernan defines the term as "
of visual representation".
In Hagstrum's words, "ekphrasis constituted that special quality of giving
voice and language
to the otherwise mute object".
Notice how the connotation and understanding of the word "ekphrasis" has shifted from "art inspired by nature" to "texts/words describing a visual".
Plato concludes his discussion of bedness and ekphrasis with the question:
The question still echoes more than two millennia after Plato first pondered it, and is still perhaps unanswered.
“Which is the art of painting designed to be– an imitation of things as they are, or as they appear– of appearance or of reality?”
Despite the difficulty of representing one art form in another medium, it has produced some legendary works of literature.
Indeed, what was then taken as the essence of ekphrasis -
"the poetic description of a pictorial or sculptural work of art"
- was coined by Leo Spitzer in 1955, in reference to John Keat's
"Ode on a Grecian Urn"
Other examples of
Ekphrasism in literature
The Shield of
Landscape with the fall of Icarus
The Picture of Dorian Gray
A popular saying attributed to comedian Martin Mull is -
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
The saying metaphorically describes the difficulty of using one art form to fully describe another.
Stephen Bann notes ekphrasis is "dependent first of all on the risky presumption that the visual work of art can be translated into terms of verbal discourse.
Points to ponder:
Can visual work of art be translated?
If so, is there a possibility of the essence of that art being lost in the translation?
What is the need of such a translation?
Before the digital age, it can be seen that ekphrasis prominently existed as a literary description of an art form, or a literary imitation of another literary form.
Images were brought to the readers not through images on paper, but through letters on paper.
However, with the creation of multimedia forms such as television and computers, the concept of ekphrasis exploded and letters shifted back to visuals.
Example: A digital space called "
The concept of
With the breakout of visual media, the definition of ekphrasis expanded to include a
visual representation of the literate form
, essentially, reverse-ekphrasis.
representation of words into images
, is likely more prominent in digital media than the previous definition of ekphrasis, the representation of images into words.
Reverse-ekphrasis has become so prominent that it is simply considered ekphrasis itself, therefore, ekphrasis may be now be defined as
the description or representation of any art or text form to any other art or text form
Ekphrasis going back
The type of ekphrasis that happens in the digital world is more similar to the type of ekphrasis that happened in Plato’s day.
Ekphrasis, by Plato’s definition, meant something directly from nature that was transposed into an art form, such as a sculpture or a painting. Digital art simulations take most of their elements directly from nature (from real life, not from text or literature) and from experiences that happen in real life.
With the emergence of digital technology the concept of ekphrasis has come full circle, back to imitations of things found in nature.
There now exists two prominent types of ekphrasis:
representations from nature or real life
representations of other artificial art forms
, such as paintings or literature.
The emergence and dominance of digital technology forces change not only to the concept of ekphrasis, but also to the concept of literacy. Literacy no longer means the ability to read letters and words, but also the ability to read images.
Digital spaces such as Second Life are imitations of real life objects such as:
money represented through Linden (the creator of the site) dollars),
people (represented through animated characters or avatars) and
experiences that happen in real life (such as human communication and relationships that develop through text, audio and visuals/gestures).
Ode on a Grecian Urn
is an example of Ekphrasis of the Romantic inspiration of
‘The Townley Vase’
by John Keats.
The Townley Vase
An adapted form of the Greek ‘volute krater’(a pot/vessel with handles to mix water and wine. 440 and 450 BC).
Decorated in high relief featuring the rustic deity, Pan and Bacchu’s (god of wine) followers, both male and female.
Is named after the famous collector Charles Townley. (AD 1737-1805).
Gavin Hamilton, Charles Townley's agent in Italy, describes finding it in numerous fragments together with other sculptures in a large villa at Monte Cagnolo, near Rome, having been thrown promiscuously into one room about ten feet under ground. The vase as you see it today has been reconstructed with great attention, as the work deserves.
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN portrays the poet's attempt to engage with the static immobility of sculpture.
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Poet addresses the ancient Grecian Urn. Talks to it.
Perceives the carved figurines as frozen in time.
Personifies the Urn as a ‘historian’ that can tell a story.
Poet imagines the figurines on the vase to be belonging to a certain legend.
He seems to question their existence on the vase.
Sees a group of men pursuing a group of women and wonder about their story.
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
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!
Sees a picture of a young man playing a pipe, lying with his lover beneath a glade of trees.
Feels the piper’s unheard melodies, are sweeter than mortal ones since they are unaffected by time.
Tells the youth that though a frozen image can’t contain physical intimacy, he shouldn’t grieve because the girl’s beauty will never fade.
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Poet looks at the trees surrounding the lovers and feels happy they will never shed leaves.
Emphasizes the concept of ‘forever’.
‘Forever new songs’
‘Forever love’ contrary to mortal level of human passion which lapses in time.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
Speaker examines another picture of a group of villagers leading a heifer to be sacrificed.
Wonders about their journey.
Imagines a little town, whose inhabitants have left it and are frozen on the urn and will never return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Poet is overwhelmed by the existence of the ‘Urn’ outside of time/temporal change with its ability to “tease” him out of thought.
He revels in the eternity if the Urn and imagines the Urn to be telling future generations its enigmatic lesson: “Beauty is Truth, Truth is Beauty”.
The painting was itself inspired by one Greek myth that relates a story about a father and son team. The father, Daedalus, built artificial wings to allow his son, Icarus, to fly away from where they had been imprisoned. Icarus got a little too excited about the ability to fly, and even though his father told him not to, he flew too close to the sun, which melted the wax in the wings and caused Icarus to fall.
William Carlos Williams
was an American poet closely associated with modernism and imagism. He was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine with a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
"According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
his field the whole pageantry
of the year was
awake tingling near
the edge of the sea
concerned with itself
sweating in the sun
that melted the wings’ wax
off the coast there was
a splash quite unnoticed
this was Icarus drowning"
The poem tells a story. Williams tells us of Icarus’ fall and includes many contextual details. “sweating in the sun that melted the wings’ wax” From the beginning of the poem, the reader is involved with Icarus’ flight through the sky. As the reader gets further and further into the story, he or she is falling from the sky and getting closer to the death of Icarus.
Landscape With The Fall of Icarus
The Starry Night is a painting by
Vincent van Gogh
. Painted in June 1889, it depicts the view outside of his sanatorium room window at (located in southern France) at night, although it was painted from memory during the day.
Below the rolling hills of the horizon lies a small town. There is a peaceful essence flowing from the structures. Perhaps the cool dark colors and the fiery windows spark memories of our own warm childhood years filled with imagination of what exists in the night and dark starry skies.
To the left of the painting there is a massive dark structure that develops an even greater sense of size and isolation. The curving lines mirror that of the sky and create the sensation of depth in the painting.
There is the night sky filled with swirling clouds, stars ablaze with their own luminescence, and a bright crescent moon. Although the features are exaggerated, this is a scene we can all relate to, and also one that most individuals feel comfortable.
Anne Sexton, (1928-1974), poet and playwright, was born in Newton, Massachusetts. In 1953 she gave birth to a daughter.1954 She was diagnosed with postpartum depression & mental break down. in 1955 the birth of 2nd daughter she suffered another breakdown. She was encouraged by her doctor to pursue an interest in writing poetry. Much of Anne Sexton's poetry is autobiographical and concentrates on her deeply personal feelings.
The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.
It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:
into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
The Starry Night is about how the earth is so insignificant (symbolized by the town) when she is looking up into the Starry Night. She is obviously depressed, but feels like there is nothing left that she needs to see and can comfortably die in the night sky. The Starry Night is Sexton's response to the famous painting by Vincent van Gogh, "Starry Night" (1889).
The Picture of Dorian Gray
is an example of ekphrasis in which the work described, the painting of the title, is entirely fictional. Ironically, the plot of the book hinges on a real work, the
French novel A Rebours
, which inspires Dorian Gray to madness and murder
Dorian Gray is the subject of an oil painting, a full-length portrait, by
, an artist who is impressed and infatuated by Dorian's beauty; he believes that Dorian’s beauty is responsible for the new mode in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat's hedonistic worldview; that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life.
Understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied and amoral experiences; all the while his portrait ages and records every soul-corrupting sin.
Abha Deshpande | TD
Dhanashree | TD
Kriti Goyal | PD
Ramanuj Nanhoriya | PD
Song by Dan McLean
The song clearly demonstrates a deep-seated admiration for not only the work of Van Gogh, but also for the man himself. The song includes references to his landscape works, in lines such as "sketch the trees and the daffodils" and "morning fields of amber grain" which describe the amber wheat that features in several paintings
A Sunday Afternoon
On The Island Of La Grande Jatte
Georges Pierre Seurat
spent over two years painting A Sunday Afternoon, focusing meticulously on the landscape of the park. He reworked the original as well as completed numerous preliminary drawings and oil sketches. He sat in the park, creating numerous sketches of the various figures in order to perfect their form. He concentrated on the issues of colour, light, and form.
Artist: Georges-Pierre Seurat
Type: Oil on canvas
Sunday in the Park with George
by Stephen Sondheim
Inspired by the painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte", this play uses a fictionalized version of Seurat to portray the conflicts many artists face in their personal lives.
Ekphrasis is NOT a work of adaptation
Ekphrasis should not be confused with adaptation, the act of creating a work of art, such as a film or comic, based on another work in its entirety.
An adaptation’s sole purpose is to represent a work of art in another form, however difficult that may be.
For instance, if a novel is adapted into a movie, that movie will not fall under the umrella of an ekphrasis work of art.
However, if a movie talks about a particular art or work of an artist and the story revolves around it, then it may be termed as Ekphrasis.
The Iliad is an extremely compressed narrative of the 10 year long Trojan War.
The shield constitutes only a tiny part in this martial saga, a single piece of armour on a single man in one of the armies—yet it provides perspective on the entire war.
poem by Homer
, Achilles mother, Thetis approaches the divine goldsmith Hephaestus to make a new shield for Achilles since he loses his shield to Hector in the war.
‘The Shield of Achilles’ is the description of the Shield made by the divine goldsmith.
‘The Shield of Achilles’ by Homer
"Then first he form’d the immense and solid shield;
There shone the image of the master-mind:
There earth, there heaven, there ocean he design’d;
The unwearied sun, the moon completely round;"
First, he forges the shield of Achilles. On the shield he crafts the image of earth, sun, sky, and sea.
“There in the forum swarm a numerous train;
The subject of debate, a townsman slain:
One pleads the fine discharged, which one denied,
And bade the public and the laws decide: ”
In the market, the people have assembled to watch the dispute over a killed man. Two men argue their cases against each other, with witnesses for both sides, while the elders listen and prepare to make a decision.
The use of ekphrasis allows Homer to portray poetically not only the images appearing on the metal but also the effect of those images.
For example, figures embossed on a shield cannot really move, of course, but Homer portrays them as dancing spiritedly.
Explores aspect of life as a whole.
Includes images of feasts and dances and marketplaces and crops being harvested.
Human beings as artisans and laborers other than warriors.
Recreational activities like dancing are also depicted.
Depiction of everyday life in the face of war.