Posts Tagged ‘W.S.Merwin’


If you say, nice photo, I’ll say, thanks.  The afternoon sun does this refraction performance through my front door.  I can remember how I looked up from reading at my dining room table. I gasped and reached for my camera. These light effects don’t last long.

If you say, ohmygod that is awesome I want to make a painting of this, then…well, then, I’ll have to say, errmm, we need to talk.

The photo gives our attention a little jolt because it reminds us that in life there are these moments that we hardly notice because we’re preoccupied with our chores and plans.

But a painting duplicating the photo would be overdoing it.  It would be superimposing grandeur onto something subtle.

I sympathize with this impulse to paint a scene that moves you and makes you sigh, oh how beautiful.  You want to celebrate that, to dwell on it by translating every nuance and detail into paint on canvas.

But this experience of beauty does not translate.  What a shocking thing to say.  (We’ll talk about this some more, two or three posts hence, with the help of W.S. Merwin.)

Oscar Wilde said, “All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.”

That’s also true of painting.  People who want to paint their deep, genuine feeling about beauty,  will produce–brace yourself!–things like this:

…and, of course, cats.


The word for this is Kitsch.



Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

W.S. Merwin, 1927-2019


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.





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We have three-hour class periods.  That’s standard for art schools.  In a painting class, students count on a painting taking several class periods, maybe a total of fifteen or more hours.  But in a drawing class, the general assumption seems to be that you can finish a drawing in one three-hour session.  Well, sometimes you can and sometimes not.  The drawing may take you in a direction you had not planned on.  And then what?  After three hours you have marks on paper that are strong, but at the same time somehow incomplete.  They demand more attention, not in the sense of refinement or fussiness, but in the sense that the idea that has emerged calls for further development.  In other words, the drawing you have just made is finished, but the idea and the potential it evokes need to be taken up in a new form.  You don’t know what form, you have to experiment.  You have to try something new.  You’re out on a limb.  It’s an adventure, full of risks.

The still life I set up for the drawing class consisted of three green peppers and a black lace-up boot.

No one chose to draw them all together.   Some students drew the peppers and some the boot, with the boot being the run-away favorite.  Two students produced drawings –one of peppers, one of boot—that prompted me to bring in materials for a demo the next class.  Ah, the teachable moment!  I brought in pen and ink.

Let’s look at these drawings, of the peppers by Karen G; of the boot by Linné D.   Neither artist was interested in rendering contours and shadows to simulate a photograph.  In both drawings, the artist simplified the form. The object is recognizable.  But at the same time, there is a play on form, that evokes different experiences in the viewer:  in the peppers, the repetition of the round triangular shapes and the allusion to muscles in the body, perhaps the thigh or the glutimus maximus;  in the boot, the experience of rhythm in the repetition of the eyelets and the ladder-like  laces, and the strong yin-yang curve in the overall composition.

The forms were so clear that they invited a medium that was fraught with risk and limited controllability.

When I did my demos in the following class period, I looked at neither the peppers not the boot. The boot was back on the shelf along with other still-life props and the green peppers had long been eaten.   Instead, I looked at the drawings, propped up in front of me.  I was not interested in duplicating these drawings, not at all.  I was interested in picking up these rhythmic forms and producing quick, energetic lines that would heighten the excitement I saw in the original pencil drawings.

The original student drawings are fairly large,  about 10 x 12 for the peppers; 16 x 14 for the boot. My pen and ink drawings are small, about 5 x 7.

The materials are simple and inexpensive:  pen holder, nib, non-waterproof ink,  water, any old brush.  (See above.)

In short, the need to develop the drawing comes out of the drawing itself.   W.S. Merwin, after he was designated poet laureate a few months ago, was asked if he makes a poem for others or for himself.  He said, neither.  He makes the poem because of the poem.  The poem itself directs him, needs to be worked out.    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTig4NeK1fc





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