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Ekphrasis- Art and Poetry (Quick Tip)

Ekphrasis- Art and Poetry

By Dr. Helena Feder 

Ekphrasis is a creative response to a work of art. While it often includes moments of interpretation, ekphrasis takes the shape of a poem, narrative, or essay. Whichever genre you choose to write it, the piece may be a meditation, an illumination, an argument, or a “back story.” It may include a consideration of the artist or the work’s audience, or the similarities or differences between the social world in which the work of art was created and the one in which you are writing now. 

Exercises for ekphrasis. Choose one work of art in the NCMA, using NCMALearn’s online, searchable catalogue. Try beginning with one of my tried-and-true workshop strategies for writing (these might seem simple, but they really do help if you’re stuck): 

  1. Divide a sheet of paper in half. On the left side, record what you see in concrete, visceral detail. On the right side, note how each observation makes you feel. You can run these lines together, choose the best one, and use it as the starting point for a poem or prose paragraph (“flash” nonfiction). 
  2. If this work of art were a person, what would she or he say? Consider anthropomorphizing, creating a voice for the painting/sculpture/or installation. What would this piece think about the Museum? Its visitors? You?  
  3. What would it be like to inhabit the world of the painting or installation? The room of sculpture? How would your life be different or the same? Consider this as literally or fancifully as you wish. 
  4. Consider the nature and/or value of Art as embodied by this one work. What does it say about the human experience, in particular and in general? How does it speak to you across time, space, or aspects of identity?