The Vital Art of D.H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression

The Vital Art of D.H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression

The Vital Art of D.H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression

The Vital Art of D.H. Lawrence: Vision and Expression


D.H. Lawrence, asserts Jack Stewart, expresses a painter's vision in words, supplementing visual images with verbal rhythms. With the help of twenty-three illustrations, Stewart shows how Lawrence's style relates to impressionism, expressionism, primitivism, and futurism.

Stewart examines Lawrence's painterly vision in The White Peacock, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, Kangaroo, and The Plumed Serpent. While many critics find Georgian pastoralism in The White Peacock, Stewart finds the influence of modernist aesthetics, from Beardsley's erotic drawings to the case of urban impressionism Lawrence draws upon in the London scenes. Critics stress Lawrence's master realism in Sons and Lovers, but as Stewart demonstrates, that realism is increasingly supplemented by impressionism, symbolism, and even expressionism. In that novel, Lawrence presents reality through an objective style that interacts with subjective modes to sustain an expressive image of life. In The Rainbow, Lawrence advances beyond realism to a new style that, with violent projections of "soul-states" and distortions of natural imagery, parallels expressionism in the visual arts. Stewart also explores three art movements in Women in Love: expressionism, primitivism, and futurism.

The final three chapters deal with the influence exerted on Lawrence's fiction by the work of Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, and the Japanese artists Hokusai and Hiroshige. Stewart concludes by synthesizing the themes that pervade this interarts study: vision and expression, art and ontology.


For D. H. Lawrence, "real works of art are made by the whole consciousness of man working together in unison and oneness: instinct, intuition, mind, intellect all fused into one complete consciousness, and grasping what we may call a complete truth, or a complete vision..." ("Introduction to These Paintings" 574). Truth in art is a matter of "intuitive vision," calling on the senses and not just on the isolated, logocentric mind. So Cézanne, according to Lawrence, "could only believe in his own expression when it expressed a moment of wholeness or completeness of consciousness in himself" (575). "Expressiveness," as Susanne Langer observes, "has endless degrees. Complete artistic success would be complete articulation of an idea, and the effect would be perfect livingness of the work" (79). Substitute being for idea and here is the goal of Lawrence's vital art. Langer's theory takes on new meaning when Lawrence's verbal imagination is connected with the "vitalized space" (89) of Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gauguin. But her rigorous formalism, in which the "life in art is a 'life' of forms" (79), does not comprehend the dynamics and roughened textures of Lawrence's art.

"Vision," as Lawrence uses the term, refers both to the faculty of visual perception and to ontological vision activated in the process of writing or painting. His reflections on painting contain some vital ideas on the phenomenology of perception and imagination, both in the visual arts and (by implication) in writing. In making vision and expression my focus, I follow such clues, based on Lawrence's experience of paint and canvas and his close study of "real vision paintings," such as Cézanne's and Van Gogh's. Apart from the cross-fertilization that goes on between writers and painters, appreciation of painting and appreciation of literature support each other in various ways. Fictional styles are clarified when brought into contact with form languages in painting that spring from similar artistic temperaments or worldviews. The effect of placing the writer in the imaginative context of the painter is to intensify our perception of the work of each, not just as . . .

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