One theme. One poet. One memoirist.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week's Theme: Glass

Lauren is the mastermind behind this week's theme of "glass."

Between naming/designing the blog, drafting this week's poem, J.D. Salinger's passing this week, doing the dishes that never really seem to go away in our house, and thinking about aesthetics, I've been musing over the theme more than I had intended.

The connections among this week's poem, the dishes, designing the blog, and glass are pretty self-evident. The connection between Salinger and glass is clear if you've read something aside from The Catcher in the Rye. The connection between my meditations on aesthetics and glass, however, will not be apparent without a little context.

In my History of Western Christian Art course earlier this week, we were having a discussion about the various ways in which a person can approach Art History. We had quite a few formalists in the classroom, and I was a little harsh with their critiques. It seems to me that art cannot be understood outside of its context, particularly with regard to the author's life. Failure to take into account the cultural milieu in which a particular piece of art is located seems to me to be irresponsible.

Most of the time.

I have to admit that I share some artistic space with the formalists. While I believe that cultural context is important, I am also fascinated by form, color, shape, symmetry, and medium. I want things in my life to be aesthetically pleasing. Beautiful. Interesting. Unusual.

The piece featured in this post is Dale Chihuly's Isola di San Giacomo in Palude Chandelier II, in the permanent collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Chihuly's work makes the formalist in me jump up and down. This piece is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite pieces of artwork. Isola is also an artwork where, when I look at it, I don't give a damn about Chihuly's life or influences. I care that he made something breathtaking--astounding really--out of glass. Out of something usually seen in a utilitarian light he created something that is exuberant, visually complex, and arresting.

My feelings about Chihuly's glasswork and writing are similar. I love to think about poems, stories, and narratives in the broader context of the world at large. I wouldn't read The Invisible Man without trying to understand the historical situation from which it emerged. The President doesn't make sense outside of understanding something about Guatemalan history.

And still, literature that does not attend to form or aesthetics, that beats you over the head again and again and again with clever allusions, digresses into political diatribes, or is so obsessed with making its point that it forgets to tell its story, makes me equally dissatisfied. Writing doesn't need to be beautiful, or even talk about something beautiful and good in order to involve me in the story. Ugliness has its own purpose, its own kind of aestheticism. I want writing to show me something unexpected, to use forms I know well in a different way, to grab me by the shoulders, shake me, and show me one of life's little graces or horrors--the kind that I pass a hundred times a day and don't recognize.

Chihuly does this in his abstract sculptures. He makes us look at glass differently. This glass is the same as the mason jar holding my water, the light bulb in my reading lamp, the windshield in my car. Here is something inherently fragile and delicate and suddenly it makes a totally unexpected statement. Blown glass taking on form as an abstract sculpture. Words molding reality in a different way for the reader. How wonderful.



"I'm not made of glass," I told you.
I was trying to convince you to come in
and you hesitated, afraid I was pretty, but cold.
Hard to the touch, but still easily shattered.
You left me standing at my own front door.
Weeks later, after we both had too much wine
you did stay. And found that I was responsive
and open and warm. It wasn't until we woke
the next morning that we both realized
I was still breakable.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, Kelly, your poetry leaves me breathless and inspires in me a paradoxically stronger sense of inherent fragility. Beautiful work!