Remember when poetry and art used to dance?  Poe and Tennyson were painted and illustrated constantly.

As for poetry and painting interacting after Modernism, what is the likelihood of two autistic persons dating?

We might even define Modernism as the artistic becoming autistic.  Modernist poetry is when poetry ceased thinking pictorially.  (Recall the Imagistes were not so much pictorial as minimalist.)

What painter wants to paint an Ashbery poem?   A painter could paint a red wheel barrow, but why would this be interesting?  If a painter were to paint a T.S. Eliot poem, what would they paint?  StreetsDooryards?  “April is the cruelst month.”  How does one paint that?  Or, “Hurry Up, Please, it’s Time!”

Artists could have depicted any number of modernist poems, but the point is they did not.

Instinctively artists have felt, with the general public, that modernist poetry is insular and parochial.

They were never wrong, the old masters.  They were painters and poets.

Although certain well-placed associates in the press have swooned over certain modernist “masterpieces,” one can only go so far with a jumble of cut & pastes from Dante and Andrew Marvell covered in a world-weary, sophisticated mist.

Even a popular 20th century poet like Frost: a painting of a man & horse in a snowy woods?  It smacks of calendar illustration.  To paint Frost’s most famous poem we’d have…what?  A grassy path?

This, of course, is a truism: modernism ushered in specialization in the arts–essentially cutting genres off from each other.  Painters ceased being poets and poets ceased being painters, as each modernist group became self-reflexive, self-quoting, and narrowly obsessed with what made their art unique:  “I use language!”  “I use paint!”

The modernists’ perception may be different, but for poets, the truth–in the mirror of art–is plain to see.


  1. ann952 said,

    October 31, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    This is a very interesting discussion on the relationship between art and poetry and its true that this is lacking in our time to have painters inspired
    to illustrate or draw from contemporary and/or modernist poetry. It
    could be done in an abstract style rather than illustrated as in the 19th century but its not done so that means there is a lost connection here?! In fact I don’t find today’s artists very poetry oriented anyway.
    The genre or form is called ekphrasis and it can go the other way as today it is more likely the poet who gazes on a famous painting and composes verses inspired by it.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    October 31, 2009 at 9:51 pm


    There are examples of poets writing poetry on paintings–Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” may be the most famous example; but I cannot think of ANY examples of painters since Modernism who have helped to make a poem famous. Good old Auden, discovering a ‘modern’ sensibility in an ‘old master…’ It is one thing when TV watchers don’t care for modern poetry–but artists? When modern artists don’t pay attention to modern poets, the hip ignore the hip, and this is a bad mark against hipsters everywhere. Perhaps modernism really is self-absorbed.