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Sunday, January 25, 2015
Upliftment, or ... ?
Australian artist Ken Done makes art, he says, to lift the spirits of those who see it — so reports The Sydney Morning Herald today, featuring some of his (and others') paintings for Australia Day. The article goes on:
'"I think in the time we live when you can see suicide bombers on the TV at night or on the front-page of the paper, art has a different role to play," says Done. "I hope that these kinds of pictures give people pleasure over a long period of time. For me, art should be more like poetry and give you pleasure."'
Gee thanks, Ken. Yes, I hope a lot of my poetry gives a lot of people pleasure, in various ways. Yes, I have derived intense pleasure from many poems I have read. But, such a sweeping statement! I dislike pronouncements as to what poetry (or any other art form) should be doing. OK, he qualifies it by saying, 'For me ...' And so he should.
Let's stick to poetry, since that is what I do, and make some claim to know. My point is that some poetry may disturb, irritate, shock, outrage ... and that it's perfectly legitimate — even at times essential — that it should do so.
I like escapist reading, and often prefer it these days — but that's prose. In poetry I have broad, eclectic tastes (though within that context I'm very fussy, with extremely high, if idiosyncratic, standards). I can certainly confront the shocking, appalling, horrifying or merely annoying in verse. If it's wonderfully written, it may indeed give me pleasure in that aspect, but I don't demand that it uplift my spirit. Sometimes it may be more appropriate to leave a reader cast down, and/or to set them thinking.