Visual Poetry

I wanted to thank everyone for the comments last week – it’s nice to hear that many of us are on the same path. I particularly appreciated Sabrina Henry highlighting Ray Ketcham’s blog post ‘Art is not pointing‘. The post underscores the point quite eloquently that our work is part of a conversation that has been going on for centuries and that we need to have an appreciation of the ideas and issues that have been explored if we are to be part of that conversation. Well worth a read!

As I continue to paddle around looking for connections and parallels in the work of others I’ve been thinking about other art forms particularly writing. The similarity between writing and photography has been noted by others but continues to amaze me.  For instance take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’, every time he mentions writing substitute photography and you’ll have a great guide to the photographic life.

If I were to pick a genre of writing that my photography is most like it would be poetry – ‘Visual Poetry’ anyone? Chris Orwig of course wrote the book on ‘Visual Poetry‘ – it’s not only a great read but also contains lots of useful exercises.

If we pick up the what is the purpose of art question from last week and ask ‘Why Write Poetry’ and ‘Why Read Poetry’ and then looking to the interwebs for an answer there are a number of interesting interviews with poets that have useful things to say.  This interview with Jane Hirshfield in particular resonated strongly with me.  There were a couple of points where I really felt as though she was in my head.  I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts about what I’m looking for in my photographs – an image that surprises me, while it makes sense to me is hard for other people to grasp.  Hirshfield says of poetry:

‘Poetry is a release of something previously unknown into the visible. You write to invite that, to make of yourself a gathering of the unexpected and, with luck, of the unexpectable.’

This is captures what I’m trying for with my images in a way that I’ve never before been able to say. There are more juicy bits in this interview such as:

‘One reason to write a poem is to flush from the deep thickets of the self some thought, feeling, comprehension, question, music, you didn’t know was in you, or in the world.’


‘You can’t write an image, a metaphor, a story, a phrase, without leaning a little further into the shared world, without recognizing that your supposed solitude is at every point of its perimeter touching some other’

‘…good art is a truing of vision, in the way that a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. And that anything that lessens our astigmatisms of being or makes more magnificent the eye, ear, tongue, and heart cannot help but help a person better meet the larger decisions that we, as individuals and in aggregate, ponder.’

All of this is starting to make me feel a little more comfortable with a role for my work, certainly in the creation of it, as a tool to connect more deeply with the world in general.

As always I appreciate your thoughts and comments and would be delighted to hear what you make of all this.

Salons, Writer’s Workshops and More

After thinking a little bit more about mastermind groups it dawned on me that artists have been meeting in groups to discuss their work for centuries. Perhaps the most famous, and most written about of these artists groups, or friendship groups as I’ve seen them called, is the Impressionists.

The Impressionists found each other as kindred spirits who were working outside of the traditional French Academy system.  As they worked closely with one another they developed a group sensibility of what they thought art should be.  They experimented with techniques that would allow them to realize their ideas that were then shared with one another, providing support and validation for paths that might have otherwise been abandoned had they been working in isolation.  In regular weekly meetings the artists would discuss successes and failures in the context of the group’s values, work through conflicts and anxieties and share contacts with dealers or masters.  I can only imagine such a regular meeting would have been profoundly energizing.

Of course visual artists are not the only ones that go through a period of intense involvement with this kind of group.  In a recent webinar that Dane Sanders hosted to support his Weavewriter product there was talk of ‘writers workshops’ that sound just like the kind of meeting that the Impressionists were having.  My research into writers workshops lead me first to Pat Schnieder‘s book ‘Writing Alone and with others‘ and then to Peter Elbow’s book ‘Writing Without Teachers‘.  

‘Writing Alone’ appears to build on the work by Peter Elbow which provides a framework for group interactions where there isn’t a ‘master teacher’ in the room. In this model the writer is hearing real world feedback from other members in the group about what’s working and what needs additional clarity.  It is an interesting process for me because I had it in my mind that without a master in the room mediocrity would reign.  Perhaps not.  

Both examples above provide me with support for my ideas about the importance of a small group for artistic development, not necessarily to instruct in a formal way but to provide ‘real world’ feedback, encourage and to share resources that could be of help.  They also make me realize that this is in essence a ‘solved problem’.  There are existing groups that fit this model that you may be able to work with if you look hard enough, the Artist’s Round Table that Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry have organized looks like it fits this model almost perfectly.  The resources are also there that could help you to develop one organically yourself if that is a better option for you.  The only question is what’s stopping you?