Monday, January 14, 2019

What is "Poetic" in Art?

Ann asks: "I hear paintings described as “poetic.” What does that mean?"

Oscar Droege, woodblock print
Answer: I take "poetic" to mean that a picture expresses quiet and dignified emotions by means of understatement and suggestion. A picture is likely to be poetic if it leaves out detail or conceals information or conveys the passage of time or if it achieves a mood that is harmonious, delicate, elegant, majestic, or melancholy. 

Henry Ward Ranger, (1858-1916)
There's no pictorial formula to achieve a poetic feeling. You know you've got it by the result. The goal is that feeling of mood which Germans call "stimmung." A picture is not likely to be poetic if it's too literal, didactic, or obvious. 

John William Tristam
Studio Magazine in 1896 said: "To call a thing poetic is to state the feeling it evokes; there can be no praise beyond that, and perhaps no criticism....For the fact remains that the painter who can succeed in conveying to others the feeling that he himself has felt, must always be an artist of true power, and that is enough."
Previous posts about Oscar Droege and John William Tristam and Stimmung


Steve said...

I agree with your definition, James. Reminds me of being in a workshop with Stapleton Kearns. In adjusting the position of a tree in the landscape, while eliminating another, he said, “We’re here to be poets, not reporters.” Though it doesn’t include every painting by every artist with the label, I suppose much of what came from the Tonalists (George Inness, etc.) could be considered poetic.

Mr. Wood said...

Its a nice topic because in a way I tend to default to searching for that "poetic" quality and
and attempting create art in that manner. Being very much into music I think this way. I think this type of art shares common chords with music. For me its nice to think about because it makes me wonder what lies outside of that box. What other things can visual art, even realism achieve. So much. There is a endless variety of experience to capture within artwork.

Drake Gomez said...

Of course, there are many types of poetry, too. What most poetry has in common is that it speaks on a connotative level, rather than a denotative one. I'm not sure if this is what people mean when they describe a work as "poetic," but its a distinction I often fall back on.

David Webb said...

James, have you come across Jesse Jewhurst Hilder? He was another Australian watercolour painter, who was around at about the same time as JW Tristram. Their work is quite similar. Both are very atmospheric and, as you say, poetic.