Inspiration for Artists: Blake's Life and Works

By Faktorovich, Anna | Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Inspiration for Artists: Blake's Life and Works


Faktorovich, Anna, Pennsylvania Literary Journal


Inspiration for Artists: Blake's Life and Works Martin Myrone and Amy Concannon; Alan Moore, afterward. William Blake. $55. 224pp, 9X10.5", 200 color illustrations, hardback. ISBN: 978-0691198316. Princeton: Princeton University Press, October 29, 2019.

This is another dream book of mine. Owning a giant collection of a canonical artist's creations was something I fantasized about as a youth drawing pictures. I would open painting collections in libraries and imagine what a fresh, unused and un-scribbled collection would smell and look like on my shelf. If I remain a self-employed publisher, it is very likely that I will never be able to spend $55 on a book unless it is required for a course; this must be what the poor in the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries felt regarding buying even the cheapest of books when its cost was so large nobody in the lower class could spend this sum out of their paycheck. In fact, William Blake (1757-1827) himself was in this impoverished group as a son of a hosier who apprenticed to an engraver in his youth for a sum that was equivalent to slaves obtaining a place to sleep and food in exchange for their labor; apprentices were bound to their masters in a manner similar to slaves for several years, and only the lucky ones survived this ordeal to become a master engraver themselves. Blake survived but he remained obscure, barely scraping by as he drew the delicate pieces included in this collection. Blake's biography really needs to be juxtaposed next to his art as it is in the pages of this book because his "Independence and Despair" echoes between the events he suffered and the mournful style of these drawings. These engravings might have been under-appreciated because they are not as large or grand in scope as Leonardo's creations, but they represent a leap in the art of engraving that gradually evolved into sophisticating art printing practices and later photography. The industrial reproduction of art through engravings revolutionized pub- lishing, and Blake played a crucial technical as well as an artistic role in this movement. His water colors are dim or shy in attitude, but their lack of brightness attracts viewers to follow the emotions and the narrative of the presented story instead of being mesmerized. Some of Blake's pieces, such as "24. Richard Earlom, King Lear", are incredibly detailed in a style approaching Venetian masters of old, so that his less detailed drawings, such as "22. Tiriel and his Children", seem to be deliberately abstracted to highlight the desired emotional expression rather than the robes and bodies of the characters presented. I recall being startled by the combination of simplicity and passion in Blake's drawing and handwritten writing of "The Tyger" poem in my AP English textbook, "38. …

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