The boundaries between poetry and visual art came down last night at the Sculpture Building on 36 Edgewood Ave.
Poet and art critic Bill Berkson spoke at the School of Art’s Monday Night Lecture Series yesterday on bridging the gap between the literary and visual arts disciplines. Berkson — who taught poetry at Yale from 1969 to 1970 — presented the audience with a blend of poetic inspiration, art criticism, and personal anecdotes. But the significant majority of the two-hour long talk, which was attended by more than 50 students and professional artists, focused on painting and the specific genre of art criticism that concerns the medium.
“[Berkson] connected us back to a culture of classical painting that we don’t really talk about anymore,” Christian Flynn ART ’11 said, referencing the commonplace negligence of painting today.
During the presentation, Berkson explained a series of paintings, quoting other poets and critics he draws inspiration from while inserting his own analysis. He focused on the dialogue created by art and its criticism.
“If one person says something in response to art and if that act of saying something is to have any life, it has to inspire the next person to say the next thing,” Berkson said.
Although art criticism impacts the audience of the art, Berkson said in a later interview he does not feel it has a significant effect on the artist or his work.
Berkson regularly referred to art as a medium for dialogue, which acts as a link between both of his occupations. As an art critic and poet, he described his work as participating in the ongoing conversations involved in each field.
“Poetry is like hearing or seeing: a social function that is conditioned by history and in turn, conditioning it,” Berkson said.
In response to a question regarding his friendship with Philip Guston — the late painter and printmaker well known at the New York School during the 1960s — Berkson elaborated on this theme of art and dialogue, discussing a community of artists who constantly edited and improved each other’s works.
“There is a marriage between poetry and painting that has gone on for ages,” Berkson said.
As Berkson described paintings, he incorporated poetic imagery and language into his explanations, despite admitting that poetry and art criticism are two different styles of writing.
In describing Matisse, for example, Berkson said, “[his work] haunts and startles.”
Another audience members explained she attended the talk to meet Berkson, since she had heard that the poet-critic has a particularly memorable personality.
“The talk was thought-provoking. I was interested in Bill’s persona and the things that he’s interested in,” Gaby Collins-Fernandez ART ’12 said.
Berkson brought his personal interests to the forefront of his presentation by frequently citing his muses, who extend from painter Nicolas Poussin to poet and dance critic Edwin Denby.
“What others have written has shaped my experience,” Berkson said. “It’s easy to imagine a time when who said what is forgotten. One feels impelled to add to it.”
Indeed, Berkson’s many interests are represented in his current endeavors: He is working simultaneously on two essays on different artists, a book of autobiographical writings, and another book of poems. He is also currently a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.