The arts have been inspiring each other for years, centuries, millenniums. “Ekphrasis” is what we call the process of describing a work of art in graphical vocabulary, with John Keats’s poem.”Ode on a Grecian Urn” probably being the most common example.
We cannot, however, speak of such narrative device when talking Katherine Mansfield‘s “Her First Ball“.
The short story, later republished in a collection of short stories, was first printed in the newspaper “The Sphere” in 1921 and is often being referred to as ‘impressionist’. Wait, wasn’t Impressionism an art movement? Yep. But in this case, it’s by reading Mansfield’s short story that one has the feeling of reading the description of a painting, with the only difference that the reading causes similar emotions to those an Impressionist painting causes. How to be clearer? I wanted to find out more.
Free indirect speech is the narrative mode implied by Mansfield to tell her story, then sound and sight are stimulated with the use of specific terms in describing scenes such as “little satin shoes chased each other like birds“. A metaphor is needed. Words are expressive, they can take your mind elsewhere and transport you to different worlds, but something tells me the comparison between different form of arts raises the bar for both forms involved. The metaphor is here essential: it embodies the reaction the narrator (or the character) is having and is trying to transfer to the reader. Or maybe I should call it an ‘impression‘, hence the term, the comparison to the Visual Arts and the vivid picture that forms as one reads. But not everyone agrees that Impressionism is the art movement to be associated with Mansfield’s writings. Post-Impressionism seems to be the other close guess, but some comparisons also take Cubism into account!
I think, to some extents, and in a general way, arts are universal. Once one has established how emotions influence the work of art, it’s only a matter of expression. Otherwise we would not have German Expressionism or Surrealism in films, Impressionism in Literature or Cubism in Music! It is true, however, that some ways of expression have a better result in the physical world in terms of reception. My idea is that all emotions can be conveyed in any form of art, but somehow the type of art that embodies that emotion better, the one that speaks the most universally understandable language, is the one that succeeds the most.
If you’d like to discover more on this subject, read Liliane Louvel’s “Poetics of the iconotext” (edited by Karen Jacobs and Laurence Petit and translated by Laurence Petit. Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, 2011; Ashgate Publishing Company, Burlington, 2011).