On Painting & Poetry (1)

written by Sophie | Art History



The piece of writing below was sent to The Free-Thinker, an early 18th century journal (or magazine), by an anonymous author in 1718.  The author wanted to share a few thoughts on the similarities and differences between painting and poetry. I think it is worth reading even today, and perhaps it will bring a smile to your face and a thought or two in your mind.

On Painting & Poetry

[I wanted] to make a few Reflections, upon  Poetry  and  Painting,  which may not be unacceptable to such as delight in Either, or Both, of These Arts. 

The surprising Excellency, which is peculiar to a Great Poet, is the Skill of conveying to Another, by the Help of Words, those just and lively Ideas, which rise in his Imagination, in the same Force and Perspicuity, as He himself conceives them. 

Words, in His Disposal, are Things: And, the Deception proves so strong, that the Reader forgets he is perusing a Piece of Writing: or, at least, takes the Poem for a Book of Magick, which (as he passes from one Period to another) surrounds him with amazing Objects, and drives him from Passion to Passion; transporting him into Joys and Griefs, Pleasures and Pains, with a Violences not to be resisted.

The Perfection of a Master-Painter is, to be able to perform the same Wonders by Colours, which the Poet commands by Language

His Ideas pass from his Mind into his Pencil, and rise up on the Canvass in their full Vigour and Proportion. 

His every Touch is a Creation: the Canvass is no longer a level, lifeless Surface; but a Scene, diversify’d with Buildings, Mountains, Forests; or, perhaps, a Sea, deformed with Tempests; A Sky, enraged with Storms, flashing out Lightning; and Clouds, bursting with Thunder: Or, a Field or War, stained with Blood, and filled with Uproar and Confusion: Or, perhaps, the silent, solitary Retreat of Sorrow and Despair; or, if he pleases, the enchanted Bower of Bliss, the Residence of Love and Beauty.

Such is the Efficacy of Words and Numbers; and such the Energy of Lights and Shades, under the Conduct of a Superior Genius: Both equally wonderful in their Operations; both equally pleasing: But not alike Instructive; in which Point, the Poet unquestionably claims Preheminence over the Painter.

Here the author seems to believe that although painting can be equally pleasing and magical as poetry, poetry is nevertheless much more 'instructive'. Poetry, he believes, can teach, instruct and prescribe much better how to see, believe or behave, while painting is more suitable for entertainment and delight. I suppose as art lovers and painters we might beg to differ.

But I'll show you what else he writes in next week's post. 

I am aware this post is a bit different from my usual material. Let me know what you think? Bad idea, Sophie, get back to paint materials and art history? Or a nice change? 

Published November 20, 2018

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    1. Hi Martine, thank you for letting me know. I know this post was a little different and it is great to know it is appreciated. 🙂

  1. Sophie. I love the poetry/painting blog. It is so fun to read in the old world vernacular, too. I like his analysis and actually agree with him on the instructive point to a point. I think both poetry and art are lost on a lot of people in our current times because they have no history with either through the educational systems in place in our overly techno-proud world. It takes a certain sensitivity to be open to the energy of poetry and art, both the create it, and to discern its meaning and importance. Thus, I think poetry might be more accessible to some people based upon the fact they are perhaps more familiar deciphering words than images and color. I really enjoyed this thought provoking and fun piece, and look forward to the next entry. Thanks for stepping outside the box and giving me something a little different. I think this has everything to do with Art History.

    1. Phew! Thanks Anniekate, I am so glad you enjoyed this post! I think the link between art and poetry is actually still there… look into song writing for example. And many modern artists use text in their art as well. There are some who mix the two. I don’t do that but do think that one has got a lot to do with the other. It is all about creating images, images with words or with paint. We are all sharing our vision of the world and hope it shows the viewer a view that they find inspiring. The second instalment is up so have fun reading that!

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