The Art of Writing on Art: Three ekphrastic responses to Harriet Bart's 'Reckoning'

The Art of Writing on Art: Three ekphrastic responses to Harriet Bart's 'Reckoning'

Posted November 30, 2022 by Camille LeFevre

Following a writing exercise hosted by NewStudio Gallery, three writers present poems in reaction to the sculptural installations on view in Bart's solo show


Earlier this month, NewStudio Gallery hosted a writing workshop entitled “The Art of Writing on Art: Ekphrastic Prose & Poetry," inviting anyone interested in ekphrastic writing to contemplate and engage with artist Harriet Bart’s installation Reckoning, on view at NewStudio Gallery through December 3rd.

What is ekphrasis? From the Greek word for description, ek = out, phrazein = tell. In today’s ekphrastic writing, an ekphrastic poem or essay might include thick description to conjure the work in the mind’s eye for the reader; but it’s also an exploration of how the writer is impacted by his or her experience with the artwork. The ekphrastic writing might convey the writer’s emotional response to the art, seek to give the reader a sense of being in its presence, find inspiration to conjure and recreate a memory, imagine what the artist was thinking or doing in creating the work…. the possibilities are open-ended. Consider John Keats's “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which the ancient vessel piques the curiosity of the speaker, who asks: “What men or gods are these?” For more examples, check out The Ekphrastic Review

In essence, ekphrasis is writing that responds to, echoes, amplifies, and/or converses with works of visual art; the practice of ekphrasis goes beyond the literal to bring the personal in conversation with the descriptive. Far more than merely describing a painting or detailing an installation, this workshop asked participants to find their own voice in the work. 

The following are three such responses to Harriet Bart's work by J.L. Fiala, Lisa Tradewell, and Lin Nelson-Mayson.




"Reckoning: An Ekphrastic Exercise" 

by J.L. Fiala


Excavated, gathered, and ordered for presentation. 


Time suspended, pinpointing and fixing this moment.


Frantic uncertainty hidden. 


Assembled, reassembled, reconsidered, reordered to get here now.


Resting in still precarity. Every grain precisely placed.


Pendulums paused over elemental echoes pulled from the corners of memory.


Before this configuration I sit.

Eating my own words. Measuring and remeasuring in an attempt to come to a different conclusion.


What has been built?

What will remain?

What is left to be planted?


If I dig into this earth, what can I cleanly hold out to you? 

…hiding the dirt under my fingernails.



"On Reckoning" 

by Lisa Tradewell


Glinting black verticals plunge like driving rain through spotlight and shadow. 

They arrive at a poignant halt in the finely crafted tips of twelve plummets. 

These quiet sentinels suspend perfectly straight and motionless above harrow discs resting on the floor in a grid.

The discs hold organic and manufactured contents. Paper, film, stone, wood, minerals, bone. 

Each illuminated in its own light and beguiling, yet somehow forbidden.

At the front of the dimly lit room sit a table draped in dark velvet and a gold-painted chair. 

I imagine a queen-like figure seated in the guided chair; her hands folded thoughtfully on the velvet cloth.

Her eyelids are partly closed in reverie as she coolly surveys her treasures of substance and texture.

I imagine her cold impassive gaze suddenly falling on me and I shrink farther into the shadows.

Who dares to enter her domain and stride boldly past her silent guardians to get a closer look at the objects on her table? 

I consider my options as I hover on the periphery.

The plummets hang perfectly still. Would they sway if they were nudged or if a wind blew?

But here there is no wind. There’s only dim stillness and an impenetrable sense of gravity. 



Harriet Bart, Poetry of Chance Encounters, Bronze Bowl/Excerpt from Gregg Shorthand, 2003


"On Unrecognized Beauty (with homage to Robert Frost)" 

by Lin Nelson-Mayson


Speech transformed to linear elegance. 

Is it a poem? A grocery list?


The artist exposes the beauty in utility.

Lines and loops, tracks of meaning.

Captured cirrus clouds drifting behind a gilded arc.


I don’t read many languages, but this is different. 

I never learned shorthand, filling sketchbooks with other lines.

It seemed a common skill.

This has revealed it as drawing; communicating meaning with fluid brevity.


“Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.”


Lines of nuance, insight into a different path. 

By decision and by chance we create a life.




Camille LeFevre is a writer and the gallery director of NewStudio Gallery. You can find the gallery on Instagram @newstudiogallery.

Harriet Bart: Reckoning is on view at NewStudio Gallery through December 3.

To see more of Harriet Bart's work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram @harrietbartstudio.

All images are courtesy of the gallery.

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