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Starting this week, we will take a more meditative approach in our lab work for awhile, trying on something called “Sitting with Art,” aka “picture study,” in which we will take a very small sample of a given artist’s work and contemplate its fruits.  Or as the late educational reformer Charlotte Mason describes it, we will

 open [our] eyes and minds to appreciate the masterpieces of pictorial art, to lead…from mere fondness for a pretty picture which pleases the senses up to honest love and discriminating admiration for what is truly beautiful – a love and admiration which are the response of heart and intellect to the appeal addressed to them through the senses by all great works of art.

 

Go cut ‘n paste style into a journal, an index card flipbook, or onto real picture paper. Tape to a wall above the computer or sink or just use a screensaver or a virtual album on your phone.  The point is to find some way to live with the chosen artwork for the week, with each piece getting as much “face-time” as possible.

For as Mason reminds us, (in speaking of children, but it is as equally applicable to adults), with such a close study

we cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.

 

Now then! Long intro, short, this week’s artist is a lesser-known “Golden Age” artist/illustrator self-styled as “SSS” with a portfolio as interesting as her bio:

 

Stilwell4

Sarah S. Stilwell-Weber (1878-1939) was a “Golden Age” Illustrator as much loved for her sumptuous Collier‘s magazine covers as her intimate portraits of women & children.

A less-recognized student of the “Brandywine School” of Howard Pyle, she also worked with his sister Katherine Pyle, in bringing to life Katherine’s writings and poetry in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Scribners and the Saturday Evening Post in the early 1900s.

Some dubbed her work “mere kiddie covers” for her extensive use of small children engaged in imaginative play for most of the magazines’ covers.

But they did not know her larger body of work, or that she was also heavily influenced by the style choices of fellow female “Brandywine” illustrators like Elizabeth Shippden Green–one of the Red Rose girls–who like the rest of that trio was a part of the “New Woman” movement that bleed into art as a risingly educated class of women entered the workforce.

Paintings such as Stilwell’s “Woman with Leopards” & “Love at First Sight” were as highly skilled as any of the male pre-Raphaelite’ romantic masterpieces, and certainly worthy of praise beyond just their strength in selling magazines.  Alas, that is another story…..onward to the art!!!

 

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Some helpful handouts for this exercise & going forward:

Perspectives in Writing Ekphrastic Poems

Looking at Art

 

The goal with this batch of labwork is to enrich both our language and senses, as well as to transfer the discipline gained in focused visual analysis to building new structures in our writing.

 

Just a few more interesting thoughts on ekphrastic poetry from Anne Marie Esposito of Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute:

 

1.Poetry and art can often influence or challenge our perceptions and prejudices, forcing us to re–examine and re–evaluate our opinions, values, and attitudes.
2.Poetry and art can help us to better understand the significance of place and time when evaluating or interpreting a literary work.
3.Poetry, like art, must be read, and reread, for both meaning and appreciation. The length of a line and the choice of a word can alter meaning just as easily as the stroke of a brush and the use of color.

 

Essential Questions

 

1.Is a work of art a representation of the subject or the artist’s interpretation of what is already an individual viewpoint? (Representation of a representation)
2.How can a poetic response to work of art be a fuller representation of a subject than the work of art is?
3.How can “reading” a work of art and/or poem challenge our perceptions and prejudices about people, objects, and personal/societal beliefs or values?
4.How does the length of a line, the choice of a word, and the clustering of details or images contribute to a poem’s meaning and effectiveness?

 

Just, please, do not feel pressured by these last thoughts to writing only poetry.  Move your narratives out into prose, into hybrids, anywhere the muse might lead.  Have fun and send along some things you are adding to your notebooks.

 

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