Trip the Light Ekphrastic (How to Describe an Artwork)
Start from the knowledge that nobody owns your way of experiencing a work of art but you. Just like nobody owns the idea of anything – this includes museums, exhibits, land or stars and sea. Nobody does your way of being in the world better than you do. Also, there are no official rules here, only gentle guidance as desired.
What is the martial art where practitioners are taught to use their opponent’s force to propel their own counter maneuvers? I imagine there is also a way that dancers serendipitously use each others’ motions to drive a performance. Think of ekphrasis as a collaborative, generative practice in conversation with others, a personal monologue in concert. There is absolutely no need to center visual information if describing how something looks is not your cup of tea.
For those who prefer more structured or practical encouragement, you might set your own constraints: write only two word responses to the art or try composing a drum solo. Talk about what the work of art reminds you of or how it makes you feel. Describe its textures or temperature. What is its relationship to space and place? Does it give off a vibe? Can you walk around it in your mind, or does it resist interpretation?
Read poetry or listen to music every day. Buy some art from your favorite local artist. Notice the ways in which art history lionizes some artists and excludes others and actively resist bias.
You don’t even have to like something to respond to it – at times I have even found it preferable to really hate a work of art because it reveals so much about your relationship to the object or performance in the moment. Our passions add resonance to who we are in the world. Now all this is starting to sound a bit woo woo- my apologies. Succinctly put, describe art anyway you want, using any form you want: compose an opera for Coco Fusco, bake a cake as homage to Ellen Gallagher, freestyle to Ruth Asawa, write Moyra Davey’s grocery list, compose a rhyming couplet for Emily Jacir, choreograph a dressage routine to Meshes of the Afternoon, draft a love letter to Kaylene Whiskey.
Okay, I lied – there is one rule. You must devote some time and thought to the art, whatever it may be. When I have worked in museums or galleries, certain pieces came to feel like old friends with all the idiosyncrasies and vulnerability that comes with familiarity. I’m not asking you to buy Derek Jarman’s Blue an engagement ring (although we have all known of more ill-fated unions, haven’t we?) Just give your imaginative attention to the art, then, to riff on a Jasper Johns quote: take an object, respond to it, do something else in response to it.