Saturday, 14 August 2010

An orange

On Monday I go away for a week to teach at a residential centre with Pascale Petit, who has just published a book of poems about Frida Kahlo's paintings - the course is in fact about writing from art.

But what does one art have to say about another? Perhaps it is not a question of 'about' at all. Perhaps it is not a commentary or even a conversation, not exactly. It might be no more than a brief electric shock that sends the second art haring off into the distance after some idea of its own. That is what I find now more and more.

But why art in the first place? Why not just the objects of the world, of which there are so many - the objects and processes and events that are the stuff of life. Say, the raising of a hand from a desk. Or the passage of a car past a window. Or some vast idea like the Atlantic Ocean that lives in the head as well as in a locatable physical place?

Something sets the words running and as soon as they start they generate feeling - about the thing that started them, about themselves, about the spaces they occupy, and about the whole sense of simply being here.

There is a loose category of phenomena to which we might apply the word beauty. Certain things are considered, in some sense, beautiful: birth, love, music, death, the Atlantic Ocean - the concept of beauty, the apprehension and expectation of it, hovers over them. The world in them seems concentrated to a purpose. But even small things - maybe particularly small things - can suddenly be full of the world, so much so, that it seems almost too much.

...One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life..

Frank O'Hara, 'Why I am Not a Painter'

A hand rising from a desk might contain all that as it moves from space to language. It is perhaps no more than a kind of yearning for things and language to be perfectly themselves, to occupy as many dimensions as exist.

What the art work provides, the stimulus, which in O'Hara's case is a painting by Mike Goldberg eventually titled 'Sardines', is energy that is not self-referring but outward-bound, as all art is. And maybe it is this concentrated outward projection that draws us to it then kicks us away.

Meanwhile the world goes on happening. People are arrested, charged, imprisoned, killed. A woman in Iran is threatened with stoning. Far away a flood threatens drowning, disease and dispossession. People kick a football about a pitch. Someone in a house a few doors away trips over the stairs. A car draws into the car park and finds a place between two others.

A way of happening. A mouth, said Auden. So the mouth opens and things begin to happen.

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