Friday, November 9, 2012

ekphrasis: a prompt

kehinde wiley, "go"
it's friday night and we're home--it's snowy out and we have sick kids, so we decided to hole up inside with a fire and some faux white castle burgers i whipped up because the kids are so sick of pizza on friday night. i didn't want to cook, but couldn't think of a good alternative, so i made tiny hamburgers on potato rolls and served them with fritos.  the end.

i just finished up writing and sending an assignment for a group of very talented high school creative writers i work with in an online classroom.  every friday i send them an assignment, and every friday they send me work to look at and comment upon.

last week we started a unit on ekphrasis.  this week i followed up with a second ekphrastic assignment--the high schoolers really shine in their ekphrastic poetry, so i wanted to give them a chance to do it again, and more in-depth. i thought i might share this assignment on GITP in case anyone out there is looking for inspiration.  of course there are a lot more paintings out there--so choose something else if you don't like the ones i chose.  and there are a lot more genres or approaches you could take with ekphrasis.  i tried to keep it simple here.

(actually, i'm trying to learn simplicity, but that's a post for a different day.)

(also i might have made up, or sort of guessed that thing about what triptychs were originally like, so feel free to correct me!)

hope you enjoy this post.  and feel free to share if anything comes of it.

helen frakenthaler, "the bay"

Assignment:  Ekphrastic Triptych

This week, I’d like you to explore ekphrasis a bit more by creating an ekphrastic triptych.  A triptych is a work of art with three panels.  Traditionally, each panel tells part of one story, but in contemporary art, it can simply means three pieces created to be put together, side by side.

As we’ve discussed before, sometimes seemingly unrelated things are strangely connected, but you only figure out the connections when you put unlikely things together.  This is called juxtaposition—putting two unlike things together in order to create a connection or meaning (good SAT vocab word!)

To me, this willingness to experiment with unlikely combinations is one of the features of a successful artist.  Chefs do it with ingredients, musicians do it with sound, visual artists with shape and color, etc.  To get you experimenting with unlikely combinations this week, I want you to write three ekphrastic poems or miniature fictions and put them together in a sequence.  You may find that all three of the very different paintings I’m assigning you to write about have something in common and that you want your triptych to have a common theme.  You may decide you want to focus on the differences in the paintings, or you may want to simply explore each painting by itself and not even think about how the three works compare to one another.

jan van eyck, "arnolfini wedding"
I’m attaching Helen Frankenthaler’s “The Bay,” Kehinde Wiley’s “Go”, and Jan Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Wedding.”  Write a short poem about each painting or a miniature (200 words or less) fiction about each piece.  Give the entire thing an original title, number each piece and give the title of the painting it's about, and the name of the artist who painted it.  Put the three pieces in whichever order you think works best.

Remember that an ekphrasis includes a detailed description of a piece of visual art. You don’t have to describe the whole work.  You can focus on one aspect of the piece, on the narrative the piece draws on or evokes, one corner, one theme, one image or shape—whatever draws your eye or engages your imagination.

To remind you of what an ekphrastic poem can be like, I’m including a link for some sample poems and a lengthier description of ekphrasis.

Let me know if you need any help with your poems, or have any questions about ekphrasis.

legwear:  orange skinny jeans, day 2, wool socks

inspiration:  helen frankenthaler

looking forward: to a night out tomorrow night


  1. Lara, while it wasn't snowy in Venice, today was the first day where the sea answered the desert. The cold blustery sea winds conquered the dry Santa Anas, and it was the first day where sweaters were in order during the day. Tremendous nimbus and cumulus sentries guarded the east all day, and the winds were strong enough to rip down old trees and drop branches on cars all over town. So Oskar and I put on our flannel pajamas and our slippers around 6:30, ate rigatoni bolognese and chicken parmegian take away while we watched arthur christmas by the fire. Not my proudest moment, but nothing to be ashamed of either.

  2. I'm going to write this weekend . . .