RISD professor discusses artistic relationship between art and words

An eclectic collection of artists and writers grouped into a classroom in Diamond on Tuesday Feb. 21 to listen to Jennifer Liese of the Rhode Island School of Design speak about writing and art and how they connect. It was a discussion of how artists express themselves with both visual and textual components. Liese studies artists’ writing “as a kind of genre,” a way to blend the written word and visual expression. Liese works at the Writers’ Center at RISD, which has received money from Colby in the past to expand the research and practice of writing.

Liese spoke of the history of writing and art: a practice that was originally frowned upon and links back to Plato. Art and writing were to be kept separate. Artists did not write, and writers did not mix their use of the word with art. However, with newly expanding outlets for expression and activism, beginning with the Cold War and continuing in the recent Black Lives Matter movement, writing and art have become more intertwined. In addition to creating art with text, the writing discipline has grown in the art world as artists writing about art. “The internet helps artists to write because people intermingle and mix media platforms,” Liese said. It fosters global conversations and creates a forum for community building and idea building. Liese spoke to the necessity of writing and creating narratives, especially for artists.

The talk was a focus on the relationship between words and art and how artists use writing to express themselves, and to provide visual clues in their art. Liese showed an excerpted piece by Caroline Bergvall, “FUSES (After Carolee Schneemann)” (2005) “BLACK PINK GREEN bodylockface cat GREEN BLACK move GREENBLACK Sea Sea BLACK BLUE patch GREEN streak GREEN…” to show an example of ekphrasis, which is when the written word describes art. The poem narrates a film, Fuses, by Carolee Schneemann, describing the frames and colors. It’s a visceral and tangible form of narrative, a new way of interpreting art. The two hold different gravity even though one is a video and the other is a poem. There is a mix of interpretation.

Liese used another example called “Groundwork” (2011) by Helen Johnson which is a list of seemingly choppy phrases, like a shopping list, and assured the audience that unfinished work and lists are equally as beautiful. It’s reminiscent of surrealist poetry, a brief smattering of thoughts and ideas that might have no connection, but constitute art simply because of their existence on a page.

The talk was one that attracted students and professors of many subjects, supporting Colby’s interest in multidisciplinary lectures that involve as many different people on campus as possible.

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