Willem de Kooning is considered one of the best American painters to ever live. He is compared to one of the Greek Sea Gods, Proteus, and is called "a master of a liquid realm who is gifted with prophecy" (Kertess).De Kooning is a highly intellectual, analytical artist with the courage to reject all assumptions and to take up an issue at its "most difficult formation" (Hess 16). One of de Kooning’s good friends was the poet, art critic, and MOMA Curator, Frank O'Hara. O’Hara considered de Kooning one of the three or four greatest painters of the twentieth century. He idolized de Kooning and was deeply influenced by de Kooning over their relationship. (Stevens 484) One of O'Hara's great poems about de Kooning's work was "Ode to Willem de Kooning" (Appendix A). At the time of writing the poem, the powerful critic Clement Greenberg would have suggested that only a trained, restrained art criticism with a limited vocabulary could have captured the essence of a piece of art, while Lytle Shaw believed that ekphrastic poetry is the best way to fully capture visual art (Bernstein). Ode to Willem de Kooning proves Greenberg wrong. O'Hara's poem captures the essence of a number of de Kooning's paintings.
How could poetry capture the essence of a visual piece of art? Formalist critics such as Greenberg attacked O’Hara’s art criticism and dismissed the descriptive force of ekphrastic poetry. For Greenberg O'Hara's kind of writing was merely a messy hybrid that was neither poetry nor criticism but "pseudo poetry" that cannot fully capture the essence of a painting (Shaw 151). Greenberg believed that art criticism should be specialized and formal (Bernstein). While a formalist criticism can offer some rich description about a piece of art, it cannot capture the full experience or create new experiences (Bernstein). O’Hara's art criticism stood in sharp contrast to the more common, formal art criticism. O'Hara's art writings are a hybrid of aesthetic and critical modes of...
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