I recently I came across a word I hadn’t heard since grad school: ekphrasis, a term used to describe writing (or other art) inspired by another work of art. Think Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” or Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The list goes on (and perhaps it should even include such Quirk Classics as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters…).
I find it fascinating that inspiration and creativity can dance in this way across cultures and ages. I think it’s beautiful when an artist can transcend time and space to commune with the spirit of another artist and with his or her creations. When done well, ekphrasis can serve to both honor, sustain, or even deepen an original vision but it can also take us in a completely different, perhaps contradictory or even comical, direction. It’s a cycle of sorts wherein art begets art, recognizes itself, and becomes expressed again in a unique way. Not to improve upon but simply to say, “and this too!”
I suppose one could make the argument that ekphrasis has a place on the spiritual path as well. (In fact, in ancient Greece the word was originally used as a device to call out or give name to the inanimate…check out Plato’s Republic if you’re bored some time…) When we come across an individual who we deem a master of living, so to speak, they can become a source of inspiration for our own artful expression of who and what we are as we go about our days. When we identify ourselves as a Buddhist, Christian, Jew, and so on, perhaps that’s a type of ekphrasis as well.
What are some of your favorite instances of ekphrasis, in art or in other arenas? Have you ever created art inspired by art? I’d love to hear about it!