I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.
These last few weeks, poetry has kind of taken over here at ArtDuh. This is a good thing, because I love the ideas and imagery words can inspire. William Blake is one of my favorite poets, and also one of my favorite visual artists. I’ve been thinking about him a lot these last few months, and he has kind of been weighing on my mind, and even my soul if you want to know the truth. I just can’t seem to shake some of his words and imagery.
Blake’s work is very unique, and to simply label him as a poet or painter misses the mark. Maybe he is more of an insane prophet, ranting wonderful mad dark angelic dream visions. The truth is, there is nobody like Blake. Apprenticed as an engraver, he went on to publish most of his own work. His books usually had the verse on one page, with an accompanying image on the facing page. Image and verse are meant to interact and go together.
They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;
They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up.
And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle.
– Visions of the Daughters of Albion (excerpt)
Blake’s path was set before him at a very young age. When Blake was four years old, a spirit poked his head into Blake’s window and told Blake to be an artist. These spirits and angels would visit him throughout his life, providing inspiration, insight and instruction. Blake would say that whenever we are generous and kind, whenever we realize the potential inside ourselves, we are artists. For him, that is creativity, and what an artist is. The life you build can be your art, and the world we make is the artwork. Life and art are the same thing. God is creativity.
Blake illustrates a certain darkness too. That darkness shows our shortcomings, when we’ve latched on too tightly to dogma and orthodox systems, or when we succumb to base emotions. Lack of creativity is caused by emotions like jealousy, or because we’ve allowed religious or political systems to define and limit our world. He saw science as ignorant. And industry, when valued over human life and potential, as evil and inspired by Satan.
The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.
And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;
Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc’d that the Gods had order’d such things.
Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.
– The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (excerpt)
Blake lived during a time when the world was becoming more and more mechanized, and peoples lives were spent working in dirty factories, defined by the clock. He reacted against the machine by turning towards nature and the spirituality. He believed if we could drop our preconceived ideas, recognize and experience each moment as unique, immediate and spontaneous, then we’d “see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower”. Each moment, and every object, is unique and undefinable. Blake reinforces this by tearing words and symbols away from their traditional meaning, and giving them a new definition.
Blake’s poems are too long to include here, even these excerpts make this post seem like a long rant, and there are so many beautiful images I cannot display. But do a little research and become acquainted. Or revisit Blake. It’s a good day for it!