February 17, 2011

resisting the intelligence, almost

Wallace Stevens said, "poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully." What does that mean? Maybe it means that a poem is more than a collection of images that can be translated into something we might call "the meaning of the poem."

I would like to say something like that about painting: that a painting must resist the intelligence--the urge to explain the image--and that it must do this "almost" (but maybe not completely) "successfully".

So a painting might allow for any number of "explanations." It might invite the intelligence in and then present it with many puzzles.


  1. "Nothing touches a work of art so little as words of criticism: they always result in more or less fortunate misunderstandings. Things aren't all so tangible and “sayable” as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are “unsayable”, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more “unsayable” than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life" - wrote Rainer Maria Rilke in his “First Letter to a Young Poet.”

  2. There's an old Hassidic proverb... that "a good story is like the blacksmith's hammer striking red hot metal... 77 sparks are created"
    beautiful paintings brother! Each is a story well told.

  3. Thanks JKK and Timothy! Beautiful additions to Stevens. I think a painting is more like a "story" than a "lesson." Unsayable and full of truth. A koan.