Stylists And Stylization
  • It’s been said that a true artist doesn’t ever lose sight of reality: she stylizes it. It’s been also noted that a good painting often looks more real than reality itself.

    The reason both of these things are true is that art — which includes literature — is selectivity.

    Selectivity is the process of choosing from among innumerable specifics that which you wish to present.

    Here, for example, is a still-life of grapes, as depicted by the German painter August Laux (1847 – 1921):

    Still Life With Grapes, by August Laux

    Here is another still-life of grapes by Buck Nelligan of Ashburn, Virginia:

    Still Life, Red Grapes, by Buck Nelligan

    Note how in both oil paintings, the subject-matter is identical and unmistakable: red grapes. But, for all their similarities, note also how very different these two paintings are.

    The thing that accounts for the differences and similarities is what each artist has selected to paint.

    Observe, for example, that August Laux selected a droplet of water, which Buck Nelligan did not. Observe the shadows, observe the one hanging from a nail, the other a cord. Observe the cloudiness that both have given to their grapes. Observe the clarity, or its lack.

    Now take the following literary depictions of autumn:

    Down at the stonework base, among the stump-
    Fungus and feather moss,
    Dead leaves are sunken in a shallow sump
    Of energy and loss,

    Enriched now with the colors of old coins
    And brilliance of wet leather.
    An earthen tea distills at the roots-groin
    Into the smoky weather

    A deep familiar essence of the year:
    A sweet fetor, a ghost
    Of foison, gently welcoming us near
    To humus, mulch, compost.

    The last mosquitoes lazily hum and play
    Above the yeasting earth
    A feeble Gloria to this cool decay
    Or casual dirge of birth.

    (An Autumnal, by Anthony Hecht)


    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too —
    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
    And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
    Among the river sallows, borne aloft
    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

    (To Autumn, by John Keats)

    Stylization is the artists evaluation of those facets of reality that he or she chooses to present. In essence, it is the artist saying to us: Yes, I regard this as important enough to include in my work of art.

    In this way, the artist’s method of execution — i.e. style — as well as the artist’s choice of subject-matter, gives an in-depth glimpse into the artist’s soul.

    And we, in turn, disclose our soul in responding — or not — to a given work of art.

    This is the way in which art is a branch of philosophy.

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

4 Responses and Counting...

  • Averil Dean 03.08.2012

    “And we, in turn, disclose our soul in responding — or not — to a given work of art.”

    I became aware of this when I saw a Picasso (Portrait of Dora Maar) for the first time. Something about the power of that painting gave me a rush like nothing I had ever felt as a response to a work of art. There were other famous works in the exhibit, but the Picasso may as well have been there alone in a room, and me with it. The next day I checked out every book in the library about Picasso and read them voraciously. I obsessed over the artist for a long time, trying to get at something within myself that had been moved by what he’d uncovered in the subject.

  • And did you, Ms. Dean? Did you get at that something within yourself?

  • Yes I did. By the light of the moon, with that bold Spaniard on the pages propped between my legs, I did find that something he’d uncovered, that deep hot caldera where I seethed inside like Dora Maar, slashed at the seams and smeared with the artist’s paint, pinned to his canvas, the two halves of me split and exposed to the world.

    Stop looking at me like that, Mr. Pulp.

  • I can’t help it.

Leave a Reply

* Name, Email, and Comment are Required