The Poet-Artists

Andréa Fernandes

In 1999, UNESCO declared March 21 to be World Poetry Day. The holiday—which promotes the reading, writing, publishing, and teaching of poetry throughout the world—has existed in some form since 1905. Since poetry and the visual arts tend to go hand-in-hand, today's "Feel Art Again" features 4 poet-artists.

Xu Wei

Today, Xu Wei (1521-1593) is considered the founder of modern painting in China, but for himself, painting actually didn't rank top on his list. Xu is quoted as saying, "I am best at calligraphy, with poetry second, essays third and painting fourth." The artist had a life of tragedy and disappointments, which was only exacerbated by his mental illness. (Some scholars believe he suffered from Bipolar Disorder.) Among his personal traumas: his mother died when he was 14 and he failed the civil service examinations each of the 8 times he took them. He attempted suicide at least 9 times, once axing himself in the head and another time drilling both his ears. Becoming paranoid that his wife, Zhang-shi, was having an affair, Xu murdered her and was subsequently jailed for 7 years. In addition to painting and penning poems, Xu also wrote 4 plays, most of which deal with women's issues. Xu is thus considered by some to be an early women's rights advocate (despite his murder of his wife).
Shown is Xu's "Chrysanthemums and Bamboos."

William Blake

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William Blake (1757-1827) has been described as "a glorious luminary" who is "far and away the greatest artist Britain has ever produced." Blake believed in racial and sexual equality, themes that were reflected in both his art and his writings, including

Visions of the Daughters of Albion

(1793), in which he condemned enforced chastity and loveless marriages and defended women's rights to complete self-fulfillment. Blake's wife Catherine was illiterate when they married, but Blake taught her to read and write and trained her as an engraver. She became his most-valued assistant. Known for the visions he claimed to have seen since the age of 4, Blake was considered somewhat of an eccentric. One dealer, believing "Blake was too eccentric to produce a popular work," commissioned another artist to execute one of Blake's ideas. Visions weren't exclusive to Blake, though;

after his death, his wife claimed to be regularly visited by his spirit, and would make no business decisions without first "consulting Mr. Blake."

Shown is Blake's "

Washington Allston

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Washington Allston (1779-1843) has been referred to as the "American Titian" for his use of colors.

The artist graduated from Harvard, where his "fashionable attire" earned him the nickname "The Count."

During travels to Rome in the early 1800s, Allston met both Washington Irving and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who became his lifelong friend. In 1811, Allston travelled to Europe again, accompanied by Samuel F.B. Morse, one of his students who went on to invent Morse Code. Popular with the artistic and literary minds of his day, Allston's work influenced Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife Sophia Peabody. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of Allston: "One man may sweeten a whole time. I never pass through Cambridge Port without thinking of Allston. His memory is the quince in the drawer and perfumes the atmosphere." Allston made a lasting impact on the artistic world by coining the term "objective correlative" and on the city of Boston, which named a neighborhood after him.

Shown is Allston's "

Jean Arp

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The French/German artist Jean Arp (1886-1966) was known as both "Jean" and "Hans": he referred to himself as "Hans" when speaking in German and "Jean" when speaking in French. In 1915, Arp moved to Switzerland from his birthplace of Alsace-Lorraine to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. He was summoned to the German embassy to possibly be drafted into the army anyway, though, but he came up with a creative method to dodge the draft. On the draft paperwork, Arp filled in every blank with the date, then drew a line below all the dates and added them together.

Removing all his clothes, Arp went to the embassy to hand in the paperwork and was told to go home.

Beginning in the 1930s, Arp focused mainly on writing essays and poetry, but still painted and sculpted on some occasions. UNESCO commissioned him in 1950 to paint a mural at their building in Paris.

Shown is Arp's "

Larger versions of all four works of art are available; just click on the images to access the larger versions. Fans of Xu should check out his biography and his works on Wikimedia. Fans of Blake should check out Blake's letters and poetry; the National Gallery of Victoria's Blake collection; Blake's notebook; the Tate's interactive feature; the Friends of Blake site; the William Blake Archive; Blake's choral compositions; and Blake's written works on Project Gutenberg. Fans of Allston should check out his written works on Project Gutenberg; his art work on Wikimedia and ARC; his Lectures on Art, and Poems, The Sylphs of the Seasons, and Monaldi: A Tale; and Jared Bradley Flagg's The Life and Letters of Washington Allston. Fans of Arp should check out the collections of his work at the MoMA and the Tate. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.