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The Concept of Art Illustrated in William Carlos Williamss

Imagism

KEY WORDS: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Imagism
THE CONTEXT
Modernism is a philosophical movement that includes the activities and creations of
those who felt that traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy,
social organization, and activities of daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic,
social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world.
The modernity is an aesthetic concept that refers to the correspondence between the
artwork and the era in which it was created. The stake of modernism is the authenticity, the
consonance between the experience and artwork, between the literary text and the aesthetic
emotion. The fundamental principle of modernism is the innovative element even if it
consistently reports to tradition, in meaning that the modernism is defined by opposition to a
tradition that is stagnant.
The modern writer's fervent desire was to break with the past, rejecting literary
traditions that seemed outmoded and that no longer suited an era of progress all the fields. In
that period there was an explosion of innovation and creative energy that shook every field of
artistic labor. Artists from everywhere wanted to take part in the amalgam of ideas and
innovations that characterized that period grouping in movements like: Cubism,
Constructivism, Futurism and Imagism. It was an era when major artists were fundamentally
questioning and reinventing their art forms in painting, literature, dance, music and
architecture.
Starting with 1914, the beginning of the First World War, and continuing with the
period that followed a time of profound disillusion with the values on which a whole
civilization had been founded characterized the universe of artists. But it was also a time
when the Avant-Garde experiments that had preceded the war would lay the foundations of
modernism.
Avant-Garde is characterized by a spirit of rebelliousness, by strongly denying forms
of enshrined art, searching for the proclamation of the new. Avant-Garde artists are showing
a sustained activism and they focus on the process of creation not on the outcome. Vanguard
has regenerative function and opens new directions in arts. The most important principles of
the Avant-Garde are: the vehement denial of the entire artistic cultural edifice that existed
before, the use of artistic methods that stimulate the illogical and the absurd, overcoming the
barriers between conscious and unconscious to achieve that integral reality, which Breton
calls it surreality.
In literature poets like Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and William
Carlos Williams used revolutionary techniques of composition through which created the
Imagist movement.
Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored
precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. It has been described as the most influential
movement. A characteristic feature of Imagism is its attempt to isolate a single image to
reveal its essence. This feature mirrors contemporary developments in Avant-Garde art,
especially Cubism.
Williams is an American writer who grew up in Rutherford, New Jersey. Since
childhood, Williams was familiar with art and literature through his parents who were
passionate about theater and literature. In 1902, he was admitted to the medical school of the
University of Pennsylvania and by the end of his first year at Pennsylvania, he had found a
considerably friend and mentor, Ezra Pound. His friendship with Pound meant a turning point
in the young poet's life. Pound introduced Williams to a group of friends, including poet
Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and painter Charles Demuth and they started to react against the rigid
and ordered poetry of the time, laying the foundation of the Imagist movement. Williams was
also influenced by many "-isms," two which affected him greatly are Dadaism and Cubism.
I. The Red Wheelbarrow
The Red Wheelbarrow is one of the masterpieces of William Carlos Williams. He
manages to give a full expression to the Imagism in this poem. The poem is formed from one
sentence: So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water beside the white
chickens which is broken down in tiny little parts to help the reader separate the objects. The
Red Wheelbarrow is a thing poem and the author uses stanza brakes to transform one
sentence into poetry and to create an integral imaginary.
The first lines of the poem seem not to be saying much, they talk about everyday
things: a wheelbarrow, rain and chickens. But the first line seems to imply that these things
are important: So much depends upon. The spaces between the lines divide the words:
wheel barrow, rain water, white chickens and it forces the reader to pay attention to the
individual words, to focus on these things as they are.
The red wheelbarrow is the central image of the poem; the other two objects exist in
relation with the wheelbarrow. Its association with the chickens highlights color by creating a
contrast between red and white. It may also suggest that the wheelbarrow is used for farm
work establishing the social context.
The effect of the rain on the wheelbarrow is to glaze it, an activity that can be
associated with crafts and arts, portraits and paintings. So the poem treats the theme of art.
Bearing in mind that art offers a different perspective of reality we can say that the poem is
also glazing reality. The words of the author could sound like this: so much depends upon
paying attention to a poem that is glazing reality. Between the wheelbarrow and the rain are
the chickens, natural but not with a social significance. The reality shaped in the poem can
make reference at two aspects:
Society represented by the wheelbarrow which is made by human beings for human
purposes.
Nature represented by rain and chickens that are unmade.
The poem also deals with the motif of loneliness that is given by the presence or
absence of the farming social context. The wheelbarrow is present, is being glazed, stands
beside the chickens and yet it also stands alone in the rain. The working person is absent and
this thing introduces the motif of loneliness which is the grief face of individuality.
The three objects that seem common can make references to the whole world made up
of everyone: nature (reality as it is), society (reality as it is shaped by the human element),
supernatural (art which is beyond reality) and individuality (the uniqueness of the three
elements).
Having into consideration that William Carlos Williams was an imagist poet, his
masterpiece The Red Wheelbarrow can be linked with The Chicago Imagists, a movement
initiated by young artists in the late 1960s. Most artists who were part of this artistic
movement were natives of Chicago, but what is more interesting and unusual for that period
is the fact that one-third of the artists groups were women. Due to their modern and creative
thinking they succeeded to craft an original art. Their works were characterized by personal
fantasy and executed with brilliant color, graphic strength and free line being similar with
Williams style.
The same features can be found in Claes Oldenburgs work
entitled Floating Three-Way Plug. The picture presents a colossal three-
way plug that floats in an open sea as a sailboat glides by in the distance.
What gives this object such presence, in addition to its size, is that Claes
Oldenburg allows us to see it in its entirety. He centers the plug on the
sheet of paper and adopts a point of view that lets us see it above and
below water. The midpoint of the plug is marked by the waterline. He also scrubs the plug
with a red-brick brown that gives it the look of an ancient structure creating a contrast to the
turquoise, green, and yellow of the water, land, and sky. The image created by him impresses
with the unusual size of the plug that is floating in water and with the fact that its significance
is unknown leaving space for interpretations. Like William Carlos Williams, Oldenburg
placed in the middle of the scene a common image that can have many interpretations.
II. Landscape with the Fall of I carus 1962
The poem "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" portrays in writing the painting made
by Pieter Brueghel in the 1560s. The piece presents the Greek myth of the tragedy of Icarus.
His father, Daedalus, was a craft man and he built artificial wings to allow his son, Icarus, to
fly away from where they had been imprisoned. Icarus got a little too excited about the ability
to fly, and even though his father told him not to, he flew too close to the sun, which melted
the wax in the wings and caused Icarus to fall. The poem has no set rhyme scheme or meter
being similar with The Red Wheelbarrow regarding its composition. Stanzas are short and
formed from one sentence that is separated in three parts by line-breaks. This thing may
suggest that the author has no intention to describe the scene in detail, giving the reader a
superficial view of the scene and creating the feeling of unimportance.
In this poem, William Carlos Williams recreates, in words Brueghels painting. So we
can identify the same elements that are shaping the poetic imaginary: spring season, images
of farming and the sea. Although spring is refreshing season that brings nature to life, the
main theme of the poem remains death. Just like in painting that inspired him, Williams
shows the indifference of those present in the landscape, so the world which Icarus falls to is
concerned with itself. The figures on land feel indifferent about this tragedy represented by
the death of Icarus even if he managed to rise higher than any person had before, so his
greatness went almost entirely unnoticed. This is suggested in the following verse: a splash
quite unnoticed.
Over the years, Icarus was seen by many critics as a symbol, representing someone
who is trying to go beyond his own condition, beyond his boundaries. From this point of
view we can make the connection between the poem and art. Icarus's gesture can be
compared to that of someone who creates a piece of art, because the artist, through the act of
creation gives another form to reality, surpassing his own condition. Withal, the fact that the
greatness of Icarus remained unnoticed is another reason to resemble his death with the fate
of an artist whose work does not become valuable only after his death. Using Imagist
techniques, Williams presents a description of a painting to get across the idea that the most
brilliant and talented often go unnoticed, and that the achievements of mankind are nothing
compared to the great achievements of nature.
In music, the ancient Greek myth of Icarus is found in Flight of Icarus a single from
1983 belonging to Iron Maiden. Bruce Dickinson modified the original tale to make it an
allegory of teenage rebellion against adult authority, which caused the death of Icarus in this
case. Even if the original myth was modified Bruce kept some elements and symbols that are
also found in the poem "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus". One of them, that is also relevant
to the essays topic is the artists condition in life. The artist should have the courage to take
risks and try to overcome his own condition, passing over the indifference of the world in
Williams case, or over parental authority in Dickinsons case.
Bibliography
http://en.wikipedia.org
https://www.google.ro/imges/
Peter Burger Theory of the Avant-Garde
Roiban Dana, SAAPIC I