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Painter’s Word

Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley and Ad Reinhardt as Writers

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Edyta Frelik

This book adds a new perspective to the study of American art by reclaiming underrated writings of three 20 th -century masters, Thomas Hart Benton, Marsden Hartley and Ad Reinhardt. Their rich and diverse literary output was never before studied methodically in and beyond the context of their painting. The book’s first part sets the necessary framework for discussing their texts by outlining the long history of debates about inter-art analogies and rivalries. Through systematic close reading of Benton’s, Hartley’s and Reinhardt’s writings the study reveals novel and unique juxtapositions of visual and verbal elements at work which are present in both their paintings and writings and confirms the existence of a strong link between their painterly and writerly dispositions.
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2. Ut pictura poesis

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Bernstein’s question is grounded in the Aristotelian classification of the arts, in which poetry is situated next to and on the same level as music, dance, architecture, painting, and sculpture. Crucial for the present discussion is the fact that the Greek philosopher identified language as one of the three fundamental means of imitation of nature in art (the other two being rhythm and harmony) and formulated the idea that poetry and painting should use structure as the principal element of composition. All subsequent considerations of the relation between the two arts follow from the axiom attributed by Plutarch to Simonides of Ceos, known as “poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens” (“poetry is a speaking picture, painting a silent poem”). Based on this axiom is the later proposition of Horace, formulated in his Ars Poetica, that painting and poetry be considered as “sister arts” because “as is painting so is poetry” (ut pictura poesis). The character of the rhetorical figures used to express these ideas (both Simonides’s antimetabole and Horace’s chiasmus rely on transposition and inverted parallelism of related structures) in a way anticipated, and in fact determined, the fate of future critical discourse on the relation of painting and literature: the intention behind comparing them almost always was valorization of one at the expense of the other. For a long time, even in mimesis-oriented theories which suggested that painters and writers produce artistic renditions of reality in ways that are ontologically analogous – which in turn justified the possibility...

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