Say it with pictures

Is there anything more naff than emojis? I’d always thought they were about the lowest form of communication known to man. But…

I was wrong. Perhaps it’s my recent trip to Japan – but saying it in pictures sometimes says it better than words.

This was my week:

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Probably only one other person in the world truly knows what this means. But the laughter we shared on opposite ends of mobile phones puts emojis on a par with poetry.

As Aristotle almost said, perhaps sometimes the job of the poet is to say something transcendent and universal about the human condition – in no more or less emojis than are needed…


Flights of Fancy


I found myself in a back room at the British Museum this week, looking at pen and ink drawings. I took a couple of photos of simple but stunning sketches by Picasso and Rembrandt.

20120519-123215.jpgAs a child, I remember being taken to see Michelangelo’s cartoons and being mightily disappointed they weren’t a patch on Hanna-Barbera. They were instead faded brown pastels. How times change.

Why the reappraisal – I’m much taken by Ernst Gombrich’s narrative that art of the Dark Ages was flat and naive because it was telling you something. The idea wasn’t to lose yourself in clouds, folds of garments or acres of flesh – but to ‘read’ a very simple and profound message. Almost always an illustration of virtue, sin or gospel truth, simplicity and directness were the point.

This takes me back to Aristotle’s Poetics – plot trumps spectacle and no more or less than is needed. Were I to embark on a painting I’d feel constrained to ‘represent’, to paint ‘well’ and show some technique.

Perhaps that’s not the point, the starting point for the artist is: ‘what am I wanting to say or explore?’ As with poetry, seen this way we are not ‘trapped’ by the fact that everything has been painted more beautifully by Titian, or precisely by the Dutch masters or bleakly by Caspar David Friedrich or vibrantly by Van Gogh.

20120519-090306.jpgThe job of the artist is simply to convey what they want to say or explore. Technique and materials come second. No need therefore to hack off our beautiful – or rudimentary – artistic wings. We can all have a go.

Lost in Translation



As I read and write more, I come to enjoy the turns of phrase of past times. I’m not arguing for Chaucer in the original – life’s too short. But the thundering prose of the King James Bible or a decent translation of Aristotle, for example.

Having learnt that ‘plot’ is everything in poetry, I largely fell for Aristotle’s Poetics based on one line:

The getting-up of the spectacle is more a matter for the costumier than the poet.

I’ve quoted this at work a few times to point out the job at hand – substance not spin. And I found myself quoting it to the missus last night having watched ‘The Immortals’, which I found a big disappointment.

I do enjoy a good ‘sword and sandals’ epic, and I really wanted to like it. But ‘The Immortals’ managed to make very little of the ‘plot’ of Theseus, whilst expending far too much effort on the costumes and CGI. They even ripped off Maximus’s helmet from ‘Gladiator’ for an all too boyish Zeus (see above).

Ridley Scott knows, as Aristotle said, that: the first essential – the life and soul of Tragedy – is the Plot. I fear the Director of last night’s disappointing fayre, was reading the more leaden modern translation of my favourite ‘Poetics’ quote, from the duff version I bought on my Kindle:

The production of spectacular effects depends more on the art of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.*

Too much stage-machinist and not enough poet in ‘The Immortals’ for me. Had Aristotle seen it, he’d be gently shaking his head – more in sadness than in anger. Theseus, the founding myth of Ancient Greece, was very much lost in translation.

*So if you’re buying Aristotle’s Poetics, I’d buy Ingram Bywater’s 1920 OUP translation, which you can get for free on

Digital Art

20111120-180755.jpgAs I’ve written before, the job of the poet is to say something transcendent and universal about the human condition – in no fewer or more words than are needed. It’s the liberating, inclusive and motivating definition of poetry from Aristotle.

And I think it applies to the other arts too – no fewer or more brushstrokes, musical notes, dance steps and now maybe pixels.That’s why I like s[edition]art the new digital art marketplace.

I bought a Damien Hirst (a piece is to the left) on Thursday. Number 54 of a limited edition of 10,000. I have a digital certificate of ownership which says so. Talking about it to an expert in visual arts on Friday, she asked me why? Why bother, why pay, what’s the attraction, what’s to stop people copying them, is it just a scam?

I think it’s similar to the way Aristotle has changed my views on charity. It’s not about being ‘seen’ to give – that’s Aristotle’s virtue of magnificence. Charity is the entirely personal internal feeling of doing the right thing – connecting with a cause and doing something about it, however small.

I think that’s why digital art works for me. It involves some appreciation, some choosing, some discernment, connecting and empathising with the artist and personally recognising – in a small way – the value of their art.

As I said to another arts expert on Friday, I think the ‘art of life’ lies in developing and exploring ‘relevant complexity’ – intricacies which embroider existence, refine judgement and develop character. For art, walking a gallery is one way. Browsing and buying in a virtual one is another.

Β£7.50 is a small price to pay in recognition of an artist’s attempt at a statement on the human condition. I think Digital art – along with digital poetry – is here to stay.

Poetic Licence

The experience of rapidly tapping out some words (‘School Run’ below), to manage my stress and frustration at my son not getting out of the car this Thursday morning, was an interesting one.

There’s something about tapping an iPhone screen and conjuring a few words of rhyme which both soothes and fulfils. So I did another on ‘spelling’ on Friday morning:

Spelling test
Practice quest
Raised tempers
Points incentives
Distraction reigns
Everyone’s cross
What have we lernd
Very little

‘Awayday’ (below) tumbled out last night and I find myself unexpectedly enjoying churning out poetry instead of prose for a change. Perhaps it’s the influence of Twitter. Saying more in less distills your words. Overnight I got a cheerful ‘like’ and a nice comment to encourage me along.

As so often in recent times I have Aristotle to thank. He says the job of the poet is to say something transcendent and universal about the human condition, in no more or less words than are needed. I find this strangely liberating. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect, scans or rhymes. The job is done if it says something which chimes.

Banal is meaningful if it triggers a memory or a moment of empathy. I read in the New Scientist this week that life passes more quickly as we get older because our senses are no longer constantly alight with new experiences – we’ve seen it all before. The challenge then is to keep finding ways to bring life to life. So I’ve recorded my morning for my own pleasure and future recollection. Aristotle gives us all poetic licence, which is good for the mind and the soul.

Post office sorting
A Saturday routine
Too large for your letterbox
Sorry you weren’t in
Stand in line
For modern life’s Aladdin’s cave
Got any ID for that
Cardboard boxes and sealed bags
New household treasure
To carry off
In triumph

Bacon sandwich
Warm baguette
Irish rasher
Ketchup lash
Focused eating
Greasy plate
The only trace

Sun’s rays
Happy days
In the park
The children lark
Throwing and catching
Tearing around
Shouts of delight
Ball goes to hand
Ball goes to ground
Swings, bumps and bikes
Life is easy