The Poet and Communication

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John Drinkwater
John Drinkwater (1882 – 1937)
William Rothenstein
Professor Sir William Rothenstein (1872 – 1945)
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at South Place Institute 21 March 1923. Chaired by Professor Sir William Rotherstein and presented by John Drinkwater.

In art, expression is communication, but primarily the artist’s communication is with himself. The artist communicates with himself by fully clarifying his experiences to himself. This clarification is achieved by taking the essential elements of his experience and putting them in a concrete, artistic form. In the process, the experience is not only fully understood but also fully encountered.

The need for such clarification is one shared by the artist with all other human beings. We all have a strong desire to make sense of our experience, but in the artist it is strongest. Also this desire seems to have no further objective than its own satisfaction. Thus the artist, in the process of seeking satisfaction, is not thinking about his audience but only about what is artistically appropriate.

However, once his work has been completed in this independent spirit, the artist does think about his audience, hoping it will approve and accept his work. The audience, in turn, values the work being offered because it helps them, as individuals, to understand their own experience just as the artist has understood his. This help comes from the formal precision – though not the doctrine – of the work of art. The encounter with that precision stimulates the recipient to greater cognitive precision about his own context.

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