Saturday, 15 December 2007

The real value of work

Dylan Thomas often grumbled that the poems he sent to newspapers and journals only fetched a pound each. He thought they were worth at least two pounds. In his famous poem 'Museum Piece' Richard Wilbur muses on the worth of an artistic work, 'a fine El Greco' that Edgar Degas 'kept / Against the wall beside his bead / To hang his pants on while he slept.'
I mention those two examples as a follow-up to Martin Holroyd's piece (see below) about why we make art, in our case poetry; but many poets like Martin Holroyd and Geoff Stevens are fine painters too.
The two interests appear to complement each other. Many a poet will write of pictures that he or she has seen in a book, in a gallery or simply on a city centre advertising hoarding. It's all raw material for the ever-present notebook and biro.
A correspondent writing to P-i-R said: '...we all need cities that provide a more intellectual and creative outlet' and another: '...a wonderful experience to be in the cultural capital of Europe'. And so it is in both cases. The value of the poetry then is in the stimulus that is found in the environment and mined by the poet for all it's worth.
But let's not forget that the poet living in a desert can write of stars, the winds like the simoon, the freezing nights , the burning days, the endless horizons, the bleak spirituality of it all. None of us lives in a vacuum.
Yes, it's very nice to be in the sacher torte and baroque city of Vienna where P-i-R is ensconced. But it's certainly not necessary and probably it's not even desirable. In a place such as Vienna it's very tempting to let things slide, to let others do it for you; to join the coughing throng in their claustral and expensive Burgtheater seats, to dawdle in one of the ubiquitous galleries pseudo-discussing quasi-knowledgably the over-priced gilded rubbish passing for art for the sake of a free glass of sekt and a bun.
Let's never forget, the so much owed by so many to so few. So much great poetry was written in the Somme trenches for example. And let's not forget those great war paintings by Albin Lienz who refused to toe the official line and brought home the realism of what was going on in the Alps bewteen Italy and Austria much to the chagrin of local churchmen and petty officials who turned their backs on him.
And don't forget that even Mozart was shunned in Vienna in his day. Went often to Prague. But you can't find him today. And as for Vivaldi who died and was buried in Vienna the officials of the baroque jewel on the Danube managed to lose his body too.
So the value is not in the money. And it's not in the location. And it's not in the time.
Nowadays, with the new zeitgeist, it's fashionable to pay a fortune for a Lienz. And what today would an original Wilfred Owen manuscript stained with blood and mud of battle fetch? No. The 'real value' of the poem, the picture, or any work of art for that matter is found in the satisfaction it gives to the one who made it.


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