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This report is taken from PN Review 93, Volume 20 Number 1, September - October 1993.

Visual Poetics-or Literature in the Artroom Anna Adams

When I was an art-teacher, in various secondary schools, I frequently broke the rules of Modern Art and encouraged a 'literary' approach. This was, and still may be, considered rather a nineteenth-century thing to do, for visual art in the twentieth century is or was supposed to concern itself with visual experience. Cézanne, the great signpost of the turn of the century, pointed the way. He interpreted no stories, nor conveyed- except in his earlier works - any emotion. He cared about space, structure and analysis of form. For him, an eye was not a window of the soul but a slightly bulging sphere embedded in the complex surface planes of the face; and faces were supposed to be as still and as uncomplaining as apples, for him to paint them. But even apples change under the eye; living nature betrays and dissolves its underlying cubes, spheres and cylinders. Cézanne made it his business to retrieve them from the collapse of mortality.

Other, less rigorous, painters concerned themselves with visual experience too. Monet was called 'only an eye' (but what an eye!), as though he were a living camera. Van Gogh painted what he saw, and preferred to invent nothing, but he included his emotional disturbance in nature. Matisse and Bonnard concerned themselves with their surroundings, and a domesticated hedonism. Very French. And Picasso thought a great deal about how we see what we see, and what we see when we see, though he also conveyed messages ...
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