Art and Poetry Studied Together

Art and Poetry Studied Together

This image, René Magritte’s “Duo” (1928, India ink on paper), will be aside poems.

“Slow Reading/Slow Seeing” runs through April 30 at the Berkeley Art Museum.

Contemporary digital culture makes us distracted and distractible, and capitalism makes us see everything in monetary terms—including art—and, to an extent, people. Is all lost? Not quite.

Slow Reading/Slow Seeing is the first of a series of exhibitions, Cal Conversations, developed in coordination with university undergraduate classes.

In this case, Lyn Hejinaian’s Slow Reading/Slow Seeing pairs paintings with poems, for lengthy analysis, inspired by art history professor T.J. Clark’s book The Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing.

In that 2006 book, Clark, during a six-month residency at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, found himself irresistibly drawn to two paintings by the 17th-century classicist Nicolas Poussin, Landscape with a Calm and Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake, and compelled—the book was written between Y2K and 9/11, incidentally—to examine his “astonishment at what … pictures have to offer, if you give them half a chance …  Pleasure and astonishment seem to me qualities that the world around us, most of the time, is conspiring to get rid of.”

In the same interview in the Brooklyn Rail on Nov. 2, 2006, Clark points out that handmade artifacts like Old Master painting are “pathetic, proud, vulnerable things … In a word, they are human,” and their “genuine difficulty, genuine depth and resistance” offer us “escape from the flimsy and infantile imagery” of “symbol managers and cybertechnicians” that dominate the vast, fast wastelands of much of the virtual world.

The exhibit presents works from the Berkeley Art Museum collection by Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Bruce Conner, Ray Johnson, Llyn Foulkes, René Magritte, Lee Mullican, Robert Rauschenberg, Georges Rouault, Luc Tuymans and others; accompanying poems selected by the students; and selections from the semester’s journal entries and academic papers.

The Roman poet Horace wrote, “Ut pictura poesis;” or, “As is painting, so is poetry,” claiming for poetry the considered attention then accorded to painting. The complementary visual and verbal arts still enhance and enrich each other.

Slow Reading/Slow Seeing, through April 30, Berkeley Art Museum, 2155 Center St., Berkeley, 510- 642-0808,


This report appears in the April edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.


Published online on April 7, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.