Analogy and Lyricism

Sometimes an artist can present an image that carries a deep respect for the individual in such a way that we gain a greater appreciation of man and his inherent value and beauty apart from our own lived experience. We identify a deep bond that exists between ourselves and the other. The film maker, Werner Herzog, has expressed this elegantly. The past couple of years he has focused primarily on documentaries. Thematically they are similar to his earlier existential films with the exception that he seeks the sublime no longer in fictitious characters but in the collective experiences of the individual. This renewed fascination with the inherent value of personal experience resides in Herzog’s search for metaphors that hold meaning.

Herzog’s search for images that speak spring from the artist’s desire to have contact with others, not only to confirm this fascination with man, but also to come to terms with the image that resides within the artist himself. The image becomes the analogy- the bridge-between what lies within that is seeking form and our experience of the world. When an artist re-represents his experience- of what lies before him as well as what resides within himself- he creates an analogical  bond that the imagination can seize upon. When this bond is honest or true the image expresses an inherent lyricism, a blending of experiences through the lense of the artist. This lyricism allows the image to carry a symbolic worth- rendering more impact to the image. Analogical relationships carry their own force and add dimension.

Baudelaire expresses the lyricism of analogy in his poem, Correspondences,

Nature is a temple whose living colonnades

Breathe forth a mystic speech in fitful sighs;

Man wanders among symbols in those glades

Where all things watch him with familiar eyes.

In many ways, art is the only means by which we can expand our own sense of the world and of man. We cannot personally experience all there is to this complex life we live but we can touch upon it through the work of the artist. And in many ways the combined experience of all artists through time enriches our own personal experience beyond what any individual is  capable of. In a sense we have lived more fully because the artists’ experience, through their own means of expression, is deeply felt. They have pursued the image tirelessly throughout their life and we benefit fully by sharing that experience.

Creating an image that can reside permanently with the viewer and have efficacy is the task of the artist. The image encapsulates all experience and re-emerges with greater symbolic value. Through the lyricism of the image, what was an abstract element of thought or mind or heart finds its place in the world among man’s collective experience and natural forms.


There is this longing that I become conscious of  in the spring. It is a restlessness that overtakes me and seizes hold of me. Although longing seizes everyone at some point, deep felt longing is an attribute of the artist. It is what drives the creative passion. It is an energy that seeks release and sets the artist on a journey. It is the sole motivation for the journey. I once had an sculptor ask me “why do you paint?” All I could really say truthfully is that I am compelled to. And he said, “that is enough”. “That is enough”, says it all. One needs no other reason. And the compulsion really gets at the heart of the matter. St. Augustine in his Confessions states,” …my heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” The artist remains restless until he finds that place beyond himself.

This sense of longing cannot be resisted. It is like the Greek belief in destiny. The heroes of the great myths cannot help themselves. Even if they make an attempt to change the course they are on, destiny still catches up to them.  This understanding of one’s self, an inner elan, allows the journey to unfold. Compulsion to act becomes the key to the creative life. It is like the breaking up of the ice in spring. Once broken, the river can flow again.

Compulsion is built on two characteristics -an intense emotion and desire in the longing; and an intuitive awareness of the connection between things.  This acute sensitivity to things in the world, through the emotions as well as through intuition, allows the artist to support the imagination as well as generate images that speak. Compulsion allows hidden forms to manifest.

Skill becomes a secondary aspect. It becomes the language necessary to convey the deep emotions  residing within. Compulsion combined with craft allows this inner life to find form and recognition.  This dual aspect creates an isthmus to images. Skill gives the artist the ability to bring back that image from the other world.

Compulsion is the beginning of transformation. It starts us on the necessary quest. We begin. We traverse many landscapes. At our journeys end, we find that what we were after has been within our grasp all along. When we finally seize the image, it is as though we were looking in a mirror at ourselves and the world. But we could not see it or grasp its significance without the quest. Only the quest allowed us to see what was before us, hidden.

Compulsion is the isthmus between two worlds.


Knowing when a painting has reached its full potential, its maximum effect, and proceeding to paint on it further will diminish its more spontaneous elements is a subtle matter of discernment. One must strike a balance between “finishing” and completing an image. It is a sense of completion and resolution that one seeks rather than “finish”. When one begins a painting, one has a deep intuition as to what form the image will take and only a partial vision of its final form. The whole process of painting is bringing together these visions to a point where their visual impact can be felt to its fullest- containing in a clear statement both the emotional climax as well as the visual. To finish a piece beyond this point leads to decadence. There must always remain an element that is “raw” and open.

Charles Baudelaire felt that a painting must not be completed to the extent that there is no opening for the imagination to enter. He based this idea of “lacuna” on the designs found in Persian carpets. The elaborate motifs of Persian carpet designs appear like a closed pattern but on further examination it is revealed that the design contains an opening like a maze on which the imagination can enter and travel within. Baudelaire felt that painting should contain this element of incompleteness allowing the viewer’s own imagination to enter. But not only does the viewer need access to the image they must also be allowed to add to its completeness. The viewer enters on his own journey- the artist as guide; Virgil conducting Dante through the underworld.

What is this “lacuna” or gap? What does it look like? One element, I think, rests with the story. When one reflects on Dante’s Inferno, so much is revealed in the story but we have a sense that there is so much more to the story than that which has been told. Virgil seems to reveal and explain only what is necessary for Dante to commence his journey of self- discovery. We only have a partial view of the underworld. Only what the guide shows us. It is like a voyage. When we travel upon the sea, we experience an intimate relationship between ourselves and the sea.  We can know much this way but we have only a partial concept of the vastness that is the sea. There is much that lies below the surface that we can only imagine.

A second element is that of “touch”. Baudelaire states, “It is obvious that the larger the picture,the broader must be its touch; but it is better that the individual touches should not be materially fused, for they will fuse naturally at a distance determined by the law of sympathy which has brought them together. Color will thus achieve a greater energy and freshness.” (Baudelaire, The life and Work of Eugene Delacroix, p.48)  Robert Henri was known for leaving areas of his paintings “unfinished”. Hands just sketched in. But in many ways he adhered to Baudelaire’s ideas. Henri believed that one should only carry a painting to the point where it fully expresses one’s intention. Beyond this, one can kill the life and vitality inherent in the piece and the expressive force the artist  used to achieve this end.

The Sufi poet, Rumi describes the imagination as a  delicate instrument, “We are lutes, no more, no less. If the sound box is stuffed full of anything, no music… Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry. Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.” ( Rumi, Fasting, The Essential Rumi, Barks,p.69) Emptiness calls to be filled- whether by the imagination of the artist or viewer- it is a yearning, a seeking that   taps into a ’emotional consciousness flickering’ below the surface in each one of us. (statement in quotes by Garrick Ohlsson, pianist, referring to the power of Chopin’s music).

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