Tag Archive: Imagination


Proverbs of Energy and Imagination

The “Proverbs from Hell” are an odd mixture are proverbs that seem incredibly similar to Proverbs found in the Hebrew Bible it is meant to counter and proverbs that obviously occupy the position of counter to the Proverbs of the Hebrew Bible. One of my personal favorites of Blake’s proverbs is “What is now proved was once, only imagin’d” (72). To me, this proverb encapsulates a large portion of Blake’s personal philosophy. It is a simple proposition that many would find difficult to see much fault in. The status of this proverb as a possible counter to a traditional proverb and even to the Proverbs of the Hebrew Bible seems unlikely to me. I see this proverb as a statement of creative and poetic possibility. Here, Blake, yet again, makes a case for individual genius and progress through imagination. In his sense, Blake’s proverb takes me back to Plato and Aristotle. Much like Aristotle, Blake is arguing for the value of creativity and imagination and its potential for creating the future and stands against Plato’s desire to expel poets in his Ideal Republic.  “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is an interesting text. It continually asks the reader to analyze the words beyond their immediate surroundings. Within the “Proverbs of Hell,” there are proverbs that are easy to agree with, creating difficulty for the reader as these are meant to stand as a counter to the “heavenly” or “good” proverbs. These proverbs are from “Hell” in that they are energetic in large part and in that way counter passive proverbs, not necessarily “good” proverbs.

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Deforming Great Art

The analogy “Israel deliverd from Egypt is Art deliverd from Nature & Imitation” is about slavery and deliverance in relation to art. Blake is saying that an artist who imitates other artists or nature is enslaved. I think this print is as much about the reception of art as its creation because Blake wants us to recognise how much the former influences the later. He is responding to “The Laocoon” by defacing it to change what it shows and means. Blake makes it into a copy of another piece of art by titling it “יה & his two Sons Satan & Adam as they were copied from the Cherubim of Solomon’s Temple by three Rhodians & applied to Natural Fact, or History of Ilium.” This challenges the primacy of Classical art and the wisdom of taking it as the model to be imitated. In His ‘Discourses on Art” Sir Joshua Reynolds distinguished between nobler and baser walks or styles of painting, arguing that students who are unaware of the nobler forms can never create them (50-51).

I don’t think Blake is trying to topple Classical art from its pedestal to replace it with Hebrew art, as he labels the sculpture. By redefining the image he is thinking outside the politics of art and the art world, for which this image is “The Laocoon” and a model of artistic genius. Blake acknowledges art’s political power when he writes underneath his title “Art Degraded Imagination Denied War Governed the Nations.” For him, imagination is not something to be acquired through imitating what is defined as Great Art. He sees that as the antithesis of imagination, which is spiritual rather than material. He gave the image a more figurative meaning and at the same time included his additions in the image. Reynolds might say he deformed it, but that might have been the point because Blake believes that imagination should not be enslaved and artists instructed to strip away deformities in pursuit of a predefined artistic greatness.

Works Cited

Reynolds, Sir Joshua. Discourse III.” Discourses on Art. Ed. Wark. Huntington Lib., 1959. 41-53. Print.

A decentralized religious anarchist?

It is unfair to locate Blake on a political spectrum because by strict definition his theory has nothing to do with politics, just like Thomas Paine’s theory has nothing to do with religion.

In A Song of Liberty from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake disdains any possible kind of system: empire, any kind of government either democratic or not, church, slavery, monarchy. So I think it might be safe at least to call Blake an anarchist. He does not support any type of institution because institutions set standards.

However, he is definitely not just an anarchist because there is something dominant in Blake’s theory: the Poetic Genius. For here we need to examine the position of religion in Blake’s theory. Blake is against centralized church and religious morality. But he is still a Christian and believes Jesus is an artist and as rebellious as him, as a man who break the ten commands. In the relationship between state and church, he deletes the existence of state and decentralizes church into personal practice. Nevertheless, the religion exists and exists as the ultimate goal of his theory: the New Jerusalem. So Blake is a religious anarchist.

If we characterize all the political theories during that time period as rational, then Blake is a romanticist. The practice of art and imagination, the essence of Poetic Genius are irrational. Blake’s theory of revolution is irrational, thus system does not exist. He calls for the Poetic Genius in everyman and the undisciplined environment. A categorization for Blake is shameful.

I started my post during the weekend trying to summarize Blake’s representation system of color in Songs of Innocence, because he mentions certain colors repetitively throughout the whole series. Firstly, Blake uses the color of white frequently as the symbol of innocence and white is the color of lamb and the Lamb, which refers to Jesus Christ. Also, in The Little Black Boy, white is related to biblical image: “my soul is white. White as an angel is the English child” (16). The connection between white and innocence continues in The Chimney Sweeper, representing the sweepers rising upon clouds: “then naked & white, all their bags left behind” (18). Later in The Little Boy Found, white is again associated with God: “but God ever nigh, Appeared like his father in white” (19).

Green is another color that connects to the representation of innocence and green echoes with the color of white by referring to grass and lawn, where the lambs are. In Ecchoing Green, the color of green merges with the image of children playing cheerfully. Also, in Laughing Song, the color of green is associated with the concept of joy: “when the meadows laugh with lively green…” (19). In Night, “green fields and happy groves” are tightly connected with “where lambs have nibbled” (23). Finally, in Nurse’s Song, green is again presented with the laughing voices of children: “when the voices of children are heard on the green” (25). Besides Songs of Innocence, the image of green and white are seen in Blake’s other works. For example, in “And did those feet in ancient time”, England’s mountains are described as green (147).

Unlike white and green, the color of black is usually associated with image of industrialization and contamination of innocence. In The Little Black Boy, though Blake shows no discrimination against the boy’s dark skin, the color black is still presented as a contrary of white: “And I am black, but O! my soul is white” (16). This image is more obvious in The Chimney Sweeper, black is associated with factories and counter-color of white: “Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black” (18). Similarly, in “And did those feet in ancient time”, the Satanic Mills are described as dark (147).

(http://www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/comparison.xq?selection=compare&copies=all&bentleynum=B2&copyid=s-inn.u&java=yes
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy F, 1789, 1794 (Yale Center for British Art): electronic edition
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, copy L, 1795 (Yale Center for British Art): electronic edition)

However, after our first discussion, I realized that Blake himself might be against this strict division of color, which is what I am doing right now. Blake’s art work is destroying the system he created in his own words. He set up this point of view in YAH & His Two Sons Satan & Adam: “What can be created can be destroyed” (352). In the art works associated with Songs of Innocence, he is materializing this idea: using different color, an infant can be both an angel and a demon (pictures above). By creating the contrary of colors in art works and poems, Blake is mocking those who try to institutionalize and systemize things, in this case colors, from their experience and reason. For Blake, the state of innocence is not a boy who was taught white symbolizes Christ but one who learn the true Christ through their vision, their imagination, and their Poetic Genius.

Blake takes great offense from Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, as both men have radically different theories on art, however, some of their arguments, with their contradictions, overlap. Because Blake was not truly trained as a painter, but rather an engraver, he was never considered a fellow of the Royal Academy and thusly faced a bias from intellectual society towards his engravings. As Reynolds argues that the “Ideal Beauty” that artists portray is learned from experience–Blake, being an outsider of the Royal Academy asserts that “Reynolds Thinks that Man Learns all that he Knows I say on the Contrary That Man Brings All that he has or Can have Into the World with him.”

Blake’s Philosophy of Art emphasizes a certain–dare I say, mechanical–precision. He centers his ideal on the fact that “To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” Reynolds would argue that this method of creating art is the work of a “mechanik…[a] capricious changeling.” In essence, he is right regarding the mechanical part–however Blake does not paint with “Minute Neatness” to merely imitate, but to capture the image of the sublime. He goes to great depths to render his work as a product of vision: “Determinate & Perfect”–a snapshot of the artistic imagination. He demonstrates the “mechanical dexterity” of the artist that Reynolds praises of the “the Young Painter.”

So then it becomes a question of authority–Reynolds sees Blake as a mechanistic copier, deceiver while Blake looks at Reynolds with contempt as a man of contradiction–one who writes “Simulations of the Hypocrite who Smiles articulately where he means to Betray.” So who is right? Well, both of them, kind of: Blake sums it up nicely by stating that “Every Eye Sees differently As the Eye–Such the Object.” It is actually an answer of perception: what does the artist see? That is what the artist portrays, as according to Blake “All Forms are Perfect in the Poets Mind.”