Visionary Imagination – Summative Entry

The Visionary Imagination, as expressed in the work of William Blake, Patrick White and Brett Whiteley has given me a new way of seeing and understanding the world.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of William Blake. I just did not realise it. One of my all-time favourite quotes has always been;

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While researching Blake during the semester I also discovered that one of my favourite contemporary novels, The Poison Tree, takes its title from a Blake poem. Like many artists that have come before, Blake was never fully appreciated in his lifetime. Rejected by 18th Century society, Blake is now championed for his innovative and imaginative contributions to literature. His work continues to influence many artists from the 20th and 21st Centuries such as The Doors, American singer, songwriter, poet, and visual artist Patti Smith and beatniks poet, Alan Ginsberg.

It is hard to categorise Blake, as he does not fall into one particular genre as such. Much of his work centres on themes such as heaven and hell, innocence and experience and the fight between good and evil. This is very much in evidence in the poem The Argument which we studied in class. After giving the poem some thought, I began to see the character of Rintrah (Blake’s alter ego?) as a representation of disillusionment, foreshadowing what the world may become in the future. Blake emulates Biblical prophecies in this poem in order to comment on the progression of humanity and where we are headed. Blake is encouraging a change in the way we think and look at the world. Concepts such as good and evil, body and soul, energy and reason and heaven and hell are not opposites, fighting each other. As an alternative, Blake is suggesting that these opposites need each other and that they are mutually dependent. These are themes that have been addressed by writers and artists before Blake, however, he approached these subjects in his own unique mixture of imagination, passion and mysticism.

As always, one of my favourite components of the course is attending art galleries to connect the work we are reading with other artists and art forms. Attending the Brett Whiteley studio provided further insight into the influence of Blake, inspiring other artists to express their inner contemplations of life and the world. Whiteley’s work Alchemy has references to Blake and Australian author Patrick White in its 18 panels of sexual landscapes and mindscapes. While wandering around in the upstairs, I was pleased to discover a number of Patti Smith albums in Whiteley’s music collection, cementing the connection of Blake and the influence artists have on each other.

The character of Alf Dubbo in Patrick White’s Riders in the Chariot is a man that has been damaged and discarded. Dubbo has a need to express his artistic vision, without ever fully understanding this need to create. It is something that is embedded in him. It is something he needs to do. Through his art, and the actual practice of painting, getting it out of his system, Dubbo eventually comes to understand the possibility of redemption.

A constant theme in the works we examined this semester is the connection to the Divine. While I left the teaching and practice of the church and the bible a long time ago, I still have the desire and need to connect spiritually to the Divine or God. I call this connection `The Universe’. I find my religion in nature and the world around me. It is artists such as Blake, White, Whiteley and Ginsberg that present the alternative approach to the Divine and how other roads can lead to revelation and salvation.

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Peer Review #4 – Visionary Imagination

Hi Julena,

Thank you for sharing this personal story with us. The photo of you and your Nonna captures the love you obviously feel towards this incredibly brave and strong woman. Your beaming smile and the look on your face says more than words ever can, but you have managed to express your feeling with passion and eloquence. I greatly admire those with a quiet inner strength, who face challenges that God or life give them, with grace and determination. Your Nonna, despite being in the hospital would not have missed this milestone in her granddaughter’s life for anything in the world.

Sometimes we often get bogged down by the daily grind of life and it is stories like this one that reminds us all about what is important in life. The power of the human spirit shines in your Nonna and I wish her the very best.

I have enjoyed reading your blogs over the semester.
Cheers,
Brendon

Peer Review #3 – Visionary Imagination

Hi Claudia,
Thanks for this wonderful entry. I can appreciate the way that Blake has questioned your views on religion, as he has done the same thing to me. As a non-practicing Catholic, reading his work over the semester has illuminated the ways we can connect to the Divine. I also agree on how the contrast between good and bad is central to our existence. Blake wants to encourage a change in thinking. He believes concepts such as good and evil, are not opposites, fighting each other, but perhaps that they are mutually in need of each other.
Great blog entries this semester!
Brendon

Peer Review #2- Visionary Imagination

 

As always Suzanne, I have enjoyed reading your blog over the semester. Your unique insight and analysis of the authors and their work allow me to explore ideas and meaning that I would never have thought of. Your voice rings loud in all your entries and I thank you for that. In this blog, you are painting a picture with your words, invading the mind of the artists. A wonderful and creative entry.
Brendon

Peer Review #1 – Visionary Imagination

Hi Maria,

A nice entry regarding your visit to the Art Gallery. I enjoyed watching you in the room, examining the prints up close and in detail. Thanks for including the photos you took to compliment your blog.
I would like to encourage you to expand your entry and make it a little longer so that you can fully analyse the prints, as I appreciate your interpretation of the spiritual and religious journey that Blake takes us on.

Good work!
Brendon

 

My Blakean Poem… kind of

Prominent in the New York City punk scene of the 1970s, Patti Smith is an American singer, songwriter, poet, and visual artist. Known as the “punk poet laureate,” Smith fuses rock and poetry in her work.  Her song, `My Blakean Year’ is heavily influenced by Blake.  Smith states:

I have worked on this song for a while. reading a lot of William Blake. His life was a testament of faith over strife. He suffered poverty humiliation and misunderstanding yet he continued to do his work and maintained a lifelong belief in his vision. He has served as a good example in facing my own difficulties and feeling a certain satisfaction in doing so.

Inspired by Smith and Blake here is my attempt at a Blakean poem.

 

When the nightmares come and take my hand

when the gorgons begin to howl,

when the sneering things prey amongst us, foul.

I conjure up your presence, dear

I place you by my side.

You offer safety in your arms and a paradise to hide.

 

The fair boy with the blue blue eyes

that haunt me in my dreams.

He is my sky, my moon, my stars, and my ocean

whenever he is near.

 

But now the witches have appeared, so let’s run

my dear get me out of here, escape the night.

the devils of temptation, away from the dark.

Follow the sky that lights a spark

reach that place where we love and unite.

 

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A visit to Brett Whiteley’s studio

Alchemy 

noun

  • the medieval forerunner of chemistry, concerned with the transmutation of matter, in particular with attempts to convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir.
  • a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.

 

The class travelled this week to the Surry Hills art studio of Brett Whitely, to explore his painting, Alchemy.

 

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The artwork, completed between 1972 and 1973 is composed of many different elements on 18 wood panels. The painting can be read from left or right or visa versa.  While discussing the work, by reading it from right to left, I found the `story’ can be seen as a `birth to death’ visualisation.

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Beginning with sexual landscapes and mindscapes, the painting then travels through a scenery of birds’ nests, glass eyes, shell pieces, plugs, quotes and references to the works of William Blake, Patrick White and others, and a real human brain before finally coming to an end with a white exploding sun, set against gold backdrop.  This panel was recycled from a portrait of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima that Whiteley had started but never completed.

Afterwards, we were allowed to wander around the studio where Whiteley lived during the last few years of his life.  Upstairs were unfinished paintings, art supplies, his collections of books, and a wall covered with graffiti, quotes and images. The living area had mementos such as photographs and postcards, furniture, sketchbooks and his CD and vinyl collection.   I love exploring the music collection of friends and family and happily went through Whiteley’s. I was pleased to discover an album by Patti Smith, connecting Whiteley even further to our William Blake exploration.  I was not surprised to find a number of copies of Dire Strait’s live album Alchemy that features the painting on its sleeve.

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One of my favourite parts of our Literature visits to Art Galleries is the dialogue it opens among the students.  We all offer different interpretations of what the artist is trying to convey.  What I find is that the artist doesn’t always provide the answer to our questions.  Instead, the question is turned back to us and asks us what we see.  We experience the work and figure out what it means to us.

Painting is an argument between what it looks like and what it means.
–  Brett Whiteley

 

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Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine.