Restoration and Neoclassical Miscellanea

The Amorous Lady: A Critique on the Past and Current Conceptions of Art

What is art? The above image implies that intention, application, and validation all play a part in the creation and acceptance of a work as ‘art’.

What is art? The above image implies that intention, application, and validation all play a part in the creation and acceptance of a work as ‘art’.

Posted by: Katelyn Lindsey

The definition of art has always been something widely discussed within different groups; what’s even more controversial is the idea on how one should do ‘proper art’. The Juice Cast, a creative blog, introduces this question and its’ multiple facets well, asking questions such as: “What makes art art? Who decides? If you make art and nobody validates it, is it still art? If you’re not an accredited master of an art, can you create art? If you say it’s art, is it?

Their answer: If you don’t think it’s art and someone else thinks it is, then…it’s art anyway, right?” (The Juice Cast).

However this definition doesn’t even dip into the more common conundrum, such as whether writing and literature constitutes art any more or less than visual mediums such as painting and sculpting, or whether specific works of art and literature are considered true art in comparison to their contemporaries. Art is something that is almost entirely subjective and deeply personalized and mostly impossible to label as one specific thing – however, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to place their own definitions onto the word. An example of this debate shows itself in the poem “On Being Charged With Writing Incorrectly” by the anonymous poet, The Amorous Lady.

A modern cover of Martha Fowke Sansom’s autobiography.

A modern cover of Martha Fowke Sansom’s autobiography.

The work of The Amorous Lady was published posthumously in the Barbados Gazette between 1731 and 1737, and though she hasn’t officially been identified, the works are strongly linked to Martha Fowke Sansom (1689-1736), a well-known published London poet.

“On Being Charged With Writing Incorrectly” takes a hard bite at the idea that there is only one form of art, and is aimed more specifically at her contemporaries, who claim that her style of writing is not correct and, therefore, not an example of true art. Her poem opens: “I’m incorrect: the learned say/that I write well, but not their way”, imparting a hard sense of Fowke’s discontent with the literary scene and the critiques of her poetry. Fowke’s style broke away from the typical styling’s of the era and brought her some harsh criticism: “Her defense of personal liberty, her professed aversion to marriage, and her commitment to a code of Platonic love…reveal a powerfully unconventional female voice rooted in the libertine Restoration culture she had imbibed from her father” (Fraier 236).

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, first displayed in 1917

“Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp, first displayed in 1917

However, Fowke’s discontent with the ideas of art and how it should be crafted are not limited only to the era; even still, modern critics hold each piece of art to a metaphorical checklist, and if the piece does not meet those determined marks, then the art is not true art – or is otherwise substandard art. A prime example of the debate on art comes from 20th century artist Marcel Duchamp, well known for his obscure and often puzzling art pieces. A particularly relevant quote of his on the topic of art states: “What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion.” By this argument, Sansom’s poetry is not less artful than the works of her contemporaries for not following the rules; regardless of the fact that they considered her poems to be less than their own, it is still considered art for the very merit that her work was consumed, applied, and thus validated by the public.

The fact that Sansom challenged the status quo, even after her death, reflects a continuous stream in art throughout the history of art. The rise of modern art brought with it the rise of the questions: what is art and what isn’t art? Though the interest in defining and, redefining art reached a widespread cultural pique with the rise of modern art, “On Being Charged With Writing Incorrectly” shows that it isn’t a battle only fought between artists of the 20th century. Like Sansom, Marcel Duchamp fought the idea of a standard art and rejected the idea of falling into predictable patterns: “I realized very soon the danger of repeating indiscriminately (forms of) expression… for the spectator even more than for the artist, art is a habit forming drug and I wanted to protect my (art) against such contamination” (Duchamp). The idea that art, when repeated, becomes boring is something that has risen more drastically in the modern era – and far more interesting is that this sentiment doesn’t only surface in recent centuries; it also resonates deeply with the final lines of “On Being Charged With Writing Incorrectly.” “This to the very learnèd say,/If they are angry—why, they may:/I from my very soul despise/These mighty dull, these mighty wise” (Sansom).

Brack, Jeb. “#28-What. Is. ART!? – The Juice Cast.” The Juice Cast. N.p., 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.

Fairer, David, and Christine Gerrard. “Marthe Fowke.” Eighteenth-century Poetry: An Annotated Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. 236-44. Print.

Lonsdale, Roger. “Martha Sansom (née Fowke).” Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990. 84-85. Print.

Sansom, Martha Fowkes. “Classic Poem.” Poem: On Being Charged with Writing Incorrectly by The Amorous Lady. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2015.


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This entry was posted on November 29, 2015 by in Art, Martha Fowkes Sansom, Neoclassical.
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