Life, Art, Image

I’ve been thinking (and talking) a lot about the image recently, so I thought I might as well write a post to get us started on talking about it outside of workshop.

I’ll start with this big ol’ block quote from Aleksandr Voronsky:

“First of all, art is the cognition of life. Art is not the free play of fantasy, feelings, and moods: art is not the expression of merely the subjective sensations and experiences of the poet; art is not assigned the goal of primarily awakening in the reader―good feelings. Like science, art cognizes life. Both art and science have the same subject: life, reality. But sciences analyzes, art synthesizes; science is abstract, art is concrete; science turns to the mind of man, art to his sensual [i.e., sensory] nature. Science cognizes life with the help of concepts, art with the aid of images in the form of living, sensual contemplation.”

Voronsky was a Marxist critic who participated in the Russian Revolution (and was later executed in 1937 under Stalin). What he’s saying, essentially, is that art cognizes reality (life), and therefore it serves an objective social purpose. I think, in this quote, is a statement about the ethics of art too: that art ought to think about life through images corresponding to reality, in order to communicate with society (consequently, bad art fails to do all these things).

Agree or disagree with this (I really want to see what everyone thinks about this quote!), I think it’s an important argument to consider, especially since we’re meeting weekly to evaluate and and improve our own art. So that quote is my way of prefacing this two part question for us:

1) What is art’s function? Why do we write poems in the first place?

2) How can art most effectively communicate?

To put it another way, why do we create art, what should we create, how do we create it?

These are large questions that artists have been debating for quite a long time, but they’re important, and I think we should all be working with these, since we’re in a class about creating art.

I don’t want to preach necessarily, but I do think it’s very important for all of us poets to learn to write through images that correspond to the real, lived, observed world. If a poem consists of images that come from the lived world, and if the artist is thinking through these images to examine or constitute abstract concepts that relate to the real world–to humanity–I think a poem is on its way toward being good, evocative, thoughtful piece of art.

What do you think? Is art a means of cognizing life? Is image the way? Is all good art social?

3 Replies to “Life, Art, Image”

  1. Hi Evan,

    I want to respond briefly by saying I agree. I think the role of the artist is to work far beyond the clichés and abstractions that are readily available to anyone in their day-to-day life. One of the roles of an artist is to participate in society in order to observe and make connections, which allow the artist to retreat to their own space in which they contemplate and organize these images in order to take cognition beyond the simple understanding of abstractions. I can say Love and you know what I mean, but I can see how Love functions in our society and instead choose to piece together images that provide deeper insight and ultimately deeper understanding of this abstract idea.


    PS No successful artist avoids the image.

  2. Hi guys!

    I want to start by saying that I really enjoyed reading this post! Focusing on images and the way we craft them in our writing is often overlooked, because as poets we may feel as though we don’t need to put too much thought into the images we provide in our writing. Last class got me thinking about abstractions and the kind of images I include in my own poetry and nonfiction.

    I especially love how you referred to the world as the “lived, observed world” because this highlights our job as artists. We are meant to see the world a certain way, through a certain lens if you will; we must not ignore this gift. We cannot stop being present.

    Thanks for sharing this post, Evan! It got me thinking about some larger questions I should keep in mind throughout the semester, and made me think about my own use of images and my job as an artist.

  3. Hi Juliet! I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and found something to take away from it!

    I think, as poets, we should be putting more thought in than anyone else (except maybe visual artists) regarding the making of an image. I think it’s more stereotype than truth that poets don’t need to be particular, that they write in huge abstractions–as you said, it’s an artist’s job to see the world, which exists in its particulars.

    I’m wondering about what kind of lens you’re talking about. How do you think we should see the world? Should we be trying to represent our own individual perceptions, or should we be trying to figure out how to reach outside of them? Is writing seeing through a lens, or trying to break out of a lens and lead others along that path to seeing the world as it is?

    I’m still struggling with these concepts myself, but I think I’m leaning toward the latter part of the last question.

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