A RECOGNIZABLE IMAGE: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists by William Carlos Williams

A RECOGNIZABLE IMAGE: William Carlos Williams on Art and Artists

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Occasional pieces, often worthwhile--Williams lived closely with art and artists--but irresponsibly edited. ""We are here confronted with a mentality still completely locked into the aesthetic expectations of high Victorian academic art. . . ."" And Williams is further found by Dijkstra to be derivative, politically stupid, sexist, anti-Semitic; in fact, the best he can do is to end, patronizingly, with: ""He may not always have understood what he saw, but in his bright joy for the shape of things [he had] the gift of accurate observation."" What Dijkstra seems totally to have missed is the hallmark of Williams' artistic life: the insistence upon the Imagination, both as a process of thought and a literal surface off which art can be scraped, culled, mixed, kneaded. And with imagination in mind, Williams' thoughts on visual art take on a particularly fine luster. ""All painting""--even abstract--""is representational and can't be anything else."" ""The essence lies in the thing, and shapes it, variously, but the sensual particularization is the proof. . . ."" Which is why in a Rembrandt, a Goya, a Picasso, we also are aware of ""the ancient balefulness of all beauty""--the strange tampering that goes on when a real object is made to exist as something more than itself. Plastic evaluation is not Williams' concern; he looks at paintings for their uncontrollable messages and hints: ""Somehow a man always looked affected in a picture (except as a clown) whereas a woman always looks serious."" After Picasso, one piece explains, we have new faces, like it or not. Perhaps best of all is a moving catalogue of the National Gallery's collection of American primitive art--the Imagination in its rudest, most innocent, and yet remarkably complex form. Dijkstra may not recognize it, but Williams' responses to painting here are coherent with the grace, candor, and old-fashioned faithkeeping of his best work--work which still seems hidden behind a cloud of presupposition and misapprehension.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1978
Publisher: New Directions