One of the Drawbacks of Representational Art–“Frustration With Representation”: A Poem

Borrowing and altering the phrase of the American Revolution “No taxation without representation,” this poem comes up with a different type of rebellion, sort of, against representational art in some of its manifestations.  Representational art, as you probably know, is art that’s made to resemble what it’s “about,” or “realistic” art, so-called.  This poem takes up only one issue of representational art; that is, whether or not it’s always convenient and pleasant to see something realistically portrayed.  Non-representational art has its disadvantages too, as the poem mentions.  The adage referred to is the one symbolic by now of Philistine, or plebian taste everywhere, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”  Unless memory deceives me, the phrase was first used, or at least occurred, in William Dean Howell’s novel The Rise of Silas Lapham.

Frustration With Representation

Two wooded winter snow scenes hang on opposite walls,
One painted by a friend's former daughter-in-law,
Better, really, in its way
Than the larger one across from it,
Bought at an art sale.
The daughter-in-law
Painted from a fenced-in backyard
High atop a mountainside,
(Pioneer-style split log fence)
Looking over a frozen lake down below.
Water, other than snow, wasn't left out
  of the other painting either,
Only it was a scene of flatland
In the woods
With a stream and rushes meandering through.
High and low, snow everywhere,
And yesterday was the near-middle of March,
When we expected
The biggest storm of the season.
Why no flower- and sun-lit meadows to look at,
Why no autumn foliage,
Why no spring daffodils?
Isn't it enough that we have to see it outside
This late in the season,
Without seeing it inside as well?
Some things are more beautiful only at a distance,
But painful reminders up close.
Or, how about gazing in bewilderment
But also with fascination
At the field of yellow,
Yellow alone,
Painted by another friend,
Entitled simply "Blue."
Why that?
Why not "Blues," in justice
To the bright yellow blare
Of horns and saxophones
The mellow ochre of a clarinet,
Or was yellow
A state of contrary sadness?
Who knows what it meant,
But it's better than snow-for-snow,
However good the art,
At least from the perspective
Of knowing what one likes,
As the old adage phrases it.
Today, though, the sun is bright,
Yellow indeed,
When representation is true,
And not blue, except for sky,
And I listen to a little jazz (not blues),
In the spirit of the day:
We all have our representational moments.

©Victoria Leigh Bennett, 3/15/17



 

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Filed under Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

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