Blake seeks to provide the Golden String which can lead us through the labyrinth of our experience or his own poetry.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Laocoon as it appeared with restorations in Blake's day and his image with inscriptions

Blake's Laocoon was the continuation of his attempt to present his ideas on life, art, imagination and spirituality in a condensed and concentrated form. Believed to have been printed in 1826, existing in only two copies, it is a summation of the lessons he had learned through a long life of exercising his imagination in the continual practice of art.

In Volume 5 of the Blake Trust's series on Blake's Illuminated Books comments are made about Blake's Laocoon print. From The Illuminated Books of William Blake, Volume 5: Milton, A Poem, Edited by Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi:

"The distinguishing feature of the engraving is of course the wall of aphorisms, epigrams, and mini-narratives on subjects ranging from Jesus to economics. They express Blake's personal struggle as a visionary artist in a commercial age, and thus the struggle of all inspired artist to make art in countries devoted to money, moral law, war, and imitations." Page 231

"In his other treatises on art, including On Homer Poetry, A Descriptive Catalogue and the Public Address, Blake locates the primary obstacles to the creation of true and inspired art in the perverted taste of his day. Copies and translations were preferred to original engravings, blots and blurs were preferred to line, and unity and morality were preferred to works predicated on the unity of the imagination expressed in the part as much as the whole. In his epics, Blake examines the struggle between imagination and the moral law, forgiveness and the accusation of sin, annihilation and the assertion of selfhood. In Laocoon, Blake consolidates many of his ideas about art and society, now more polarized than ever before, and continues to pursue the problems of taste and perception. Whereas 'Art' manifests 'Jesus', 'War' and 'Dominion' manifest 'Money' and false moral virtue. Cultures like his own and those of Greece and Rome, so thoroughly permeated by false ideas of 'Good' and 'Evil', see with the natural eye only and are incapable of recognizing that their vision is limited." Page 232

A few succinct quotes from the Plate:

Laocoon , (E 273)
"Art Degraded Imagination Denied War Governed the Nations"

"Adam is only The Natural Man & not the Soul or Imagination"

"Christianity is Art & not Money
Money is its Curse"

"For every Pleasure Money Is Useless"

"All is not Sin that Satan calls so all the Loves & Graces of Eternity."

There are many answers to the question of why Blake chose to display his wisdom about art alongside his portrayal of the Laocoon statue. Suggested answers:
His way of working was combining words with pictures.
The statue at multiple levels represents struggle between contraries.
The reader/viewer would be challenged to reconcile the messages conveyed by the words and picture.
Blake could speak to rational and emotional mental processes simultaneously by combining verbal and visual means.
The long history of the Laocoon myth and statue and those who had interacted with them would enhance the message he wished to convey about art.
Or, he wanted to provoke his reader into working out his own way of integrating the role of art into the development of his imagination.

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