Tag Archive: Poetic Genius as the Basis of Artwork

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).

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’s new religion

By claiming All Religions Are One, Blake created a new religion himself, with utilizing Poetic Genius to present Prophecy and Art as its major practice. In this religion, he integrated all Gods, from whatever religions, as one. Therefore by assimilating all religions, he denied these religions’ original principles and recreated his own. True Men recorded their vision and imagination, through their own Poetic Genius, and delivered their understanding of this only and ultimate existence. All religions on this planet served as reflections of this highest existence. However, I would like to make no assumption about what this ultimate existence, the origin of all religion and the source of all Gods, exactly is. Unlike many other religions, Blake created a practice without a clear goal. His definition of divine and infinite, the highest goals of this religion, emphasize on the practice itself, not a practice of scientific analysis or logical deduction, but a practice of seeing vision. The practice of Poetic Genius in the form of Prophecy and Art enables one to see infinite. Nevertheless, as a Christian himself, where is the position of Christian religion in this interpretation when all religions are intrinsically the same? And what is the point to rebuild Jerusalem in the land of England if the goal is just to see the infinite?

For Blake, perfected art is an external derivative of man’s spontaneous poetic genius.  The poetic genius is simple yet powerful and a spirit of prophecy.  WIth Blake’s “All Religions are One” expressing the sole ability of the poetic genius to enlighten man, no other ornament/use of logic other than whats founded from the poetic genius should be used to create art or for that matter any other product of life.  This is the Blakean ideal for art and is supported by Sir Joshua Reynolds Discourses on Art.  Reynolds points out that the artist must form a true and central idea of beauty and in doing so “gives his works a correct and perfect design” (Discourses On Art, Pg 49).  The artist, to reach works of genius, must also inform himself with the unadulterated habits of nature; this permits the artists’ works to follow the “flow” of nature providing the work with a pure and consistently repeatable simplicity.  The manifestation of poetic genius is the sure fire way to experience the heaven that all perfect art derives from and in doing so, the artist can more easily witness the habits of nature and what makes art beautiful/the central form that is beautiful.  Reynolds speaks of the artist reaching a heaven then coming back to down to reality and building art based on that heaven.  That heaven is Blake’s poetic genius and through this heaven, perfect art is made because it is both in accordance with the laws of nature as well as following the possible perfect forms in art which man creates.