The following pieces were composed in order to be a part of a larger collection, an attempt at expanding the material that Inscape publishes. These pieces were all written around Inscape, "the unique inner nature of a person or object as shown in a work of art." The intention of this was to allow the creators as much flexibility and freedom as possible, in a similar vein to the theme itself, and these pieces are evidence of the variety of interpretations and power of creativity that people can have. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this, and many thanks to everyone who helped make it possible.
On Finding Myself In A Room of Small Poetry
Soul as untranslatable
(don’t argue this).
Bodies mold and are molded
(see: calluses on index finger. See: this pen.
see: small clay pot hot
pink “Kiln Art Kaitlyn O
see: fingerprint on bottom,
dust on brim”).
See scar, read wound. And yet
— but here’s the gripe —
words from loved lips do not kiss like a knife.
Blood transfuses, fingers make bruises,
we speak in bright glances on
dance floors at night,
but scar cannot speak the how-lived-it.
Inscriptions dissolve with time
So when you find yourself
in a room of small poetry,
with your lucid dreams printed
one by one by one on the wall
— when you realize your DNA is letters, too —
you and the girl in the fur-foreign coat will read them
synchronously and you must
Remember: they were not written for you.
Jenny Holzer’s Truisisms Room
Tate Modern Art Museum, London
On Inscape: Shrek, Sleeping Beauty, and Dorian Grey
Alright, I gotta be honest: I didn’t know “inscape” was an actual word until a few weeks ago. I suppose I imagined it was one of those creative portmanteaus with obscure root words—which just goes to show how much I pretend to know. Well, that actually segues somewhat successfully into my reflections on “inscape” and what it might mean to me: appearance versus reality, perception versus consideration.
The definition I was given for “inscape” is as follows: “the unique inner nature of a person or object as shown in a work of art.” You wanna know what the first thing that came to my mind was? The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. A book I have never read, but whose concept I am familiar with. I found that pretty ironic. After all, the picture of Dorian Grey does convey his true nature: as he becomes more corrupt as a person, so does his portrait, whereas he stays young and handsome.
What we find in the case of this fictitious character is a relationship between image and reality that suggests that images have the power to reveal what reality tends to hide—that images can reflect inner nature. That got me thinking about visual representations in society today and how much this kind of reasoning actually plays out in real life—not that we have a Dorian Grey situation per se, but come to think of it, it’s not far off. We are often led to believe that images do reflect inner nature—especially in pop culture—whereas, in reality, this isn’t always true.
When I was little, I thought I’d grow up to look like Sleeping Beauty. No joke—she was my favorite Disney princess, and I liked her blonde hair. Never mind that I hadn’t been blonde since I was a baby. There’s something about an image that arrests the young imagination beyond, perhaps, the bounds of rationality. After all, I knew what I looked like at the time. But my older self, who could guess? Growing up was an abstract concept. For all I knew, I’d turn blonde and look like Princess Aurora by the time I reached adulthood. (For the record, I didn’t.)
If you grew up with a love of drawing—or even if you didn’t—you might’ve developed a habit, as I did, of molding your self-portrait to fit your desired self-image. When you’re a small child, you tend to draw yourself as you are because you haven’t yet been bombarded with as many images from the outside world. But as you grow older—if you keep up with your drawing or self-image-envisioning habits—you may start to realize that the way you are in real life isn’t the way you want to portray yourself. Maybe you have acne. Maybe you have a little fat, or your eyes are too close together. But you don’t have to draw all that, do you? So what do you do? (What did I do?) You draw yourself as you’d like to appear. You change your own proportions because cartoons don’t follow the rules of reality, and you conform your own self-image to the images you see around you—and evaluate yourself thusly.
Okay, is that everybody’s struggle? No, hopefully not. But we live in a visual world, and even though visual media as a whole is a vast and multi-faceted array of perspectives and interpretations, there’s still a dominant imagery that pervades our cultural standards of art and beauty. What we see in an image hardly ever reveals the inner nature of that image, and in fact, culturally we tend to be presented with the opposite: appearance as inner nature.
Take the example of Sleeping Beauty, my childhood ideal of female beauty. Of course she’s pretty—her features abide by the standards of the time. She’s trim but physically mature, as all Disney princesses are. She’s championed as beautiful, praised for her golden hair and rose-red lips (no lipstick?), she has a lovely singing voice, she’s kind, and she’s coy. In the end, she gets her handsome prince. But what if Sleeping Beauty were the opposite of her visual image? Leave her the singing and the kindness, etc., but make her plainer, less trim, and with a visually unremarkable face. Make her actually look her age—barely sixteen, let us not forget. What changes? The story? Is it really still Sleeping Beauty without the “beauty”? Or is the image of the princess so powerful that it overrides the possible merits of the story, if there be merit at all?
Here’s how the story would go, I think. Say the prince is exactly the same (I didn’t think he was such a bad guy to begin with) and finds her the exact same way: in the woods, singing, and pretending to dance with him (vis-à-vis her animal friends, who steal his hat, cloak, and boots and wear them). What happens when he sees her? Keep in mind that in the fateful world of the movie, they feel like they’ve always known each other, “once upon a dream,” as it were. Would seeing what she looked like change his reaction?
This may be a children’s movie, but it’s an artful one at that. Everything is dependent on the visual. The prince’s reaction to Aurora sets the whole course of the rest of the movie. If he were to react the same way, then maybe we’ve got a touching message about the power of true love, etc., and maybe it would change the perceptions of the young, impressionable audience.
But what if he reacted differently? What if he only cared about her beauty, initially? I imagine it would go something like this:
[Prince enters scene]
Prince: Hey, uh, excuse me, that’s my cloak. And hat. And shoes.
Aurora: Oh! I’m sorry, I just… got carried away.
Prince: That’s okay. You have a lovely singing voice.
Aurora: Thank you. You have a lovely… taste in riding clothes.
Prince: Well, thank you for finding them. It was nice meeting you. So long!
Oh, that’s pretty harsh, though, isn’t it? We need the story to end the same, after all, so let’s add a little depth to the conversation:
Prince: Well, thank you for finding them. What were you singing about, if I may ask?
Aurora: Oh, well… I was singing about true love. You see, I have this reoccurring dream about it… come to think of it, the man in my dream kind of looks like you. I know how that sounds, but…
Prince: I’m flattered, but I’m actually engaged to be married. (This is true of the plot.)
Aurora: Oh. Well, Congratulations.
Prince: I’ve never met her, though.
Aurora: Oh, well that sucks. (Obviously, replace “sucks” with G-rated equivalent.)
Prince: At least you get to search for true love. I envy you for that.
So on and so forth, they bond over their mutual life goals, they part ways, the story tracks on, the prince realizes he wants to be with her, he saves her from her slumbering fate, and plot twist! She is his betrothed! Happily ever after.
But instead of the flowery, romantic scene in the original version where they fall in love instantly, they actually have to get to know each other on a personal level and overcome their preconceived ideas about love before they can rightly say they’re in love. All because in this version, Sleeping Beauty is not drop-dead gorgeous by conventional standards.
In hindsight, I now realize I have essentially revised the plot to match that of the DreamWorks motion picture, Shrek. You know what, come to think of it, despite my generation’s tendency to turn that movie into a nationwide inside joke, Shrek is actually unique in that it directly challenged people’s assumptions about fairytales and the relationship between images and inner nature. After all, the movie’s protagonist/namesake is an ogre—ugly, unfriendly, and incredibly misunderstood. Princess Fiona starts off as a pretty standard-looking fairytale princess, but in the end, she herself turns into an ogre—a curse that becomes her true form after she and Shrek share “true love’s first kiss.” Though arguably she’s still probably the cutest ogre around, the important part is that it didn’t matter to Shrek what she looked like in the first place—their relationship developed as they got to know each other and forged a bond based on their commonalities. That’s actually a really powerful message for a movie that otherwise seems saturated in pop culture references and overtly sexual innuendos. Shrek totally flipped the script in the world of visual media by showing that images don’t necessarily reveal the inner nature of something—in fact, it’s often the opposite.
So, would I change Disney’s Sleeping Beauty if I could? No, not necessarily—it’s just a movie. But just by comparing its visual messages to that of Shrek’s, I think the contrast speaks for itself—and I think that even today, producing visuals like that of Sleeping Beauty still outweighs producing visuals like that of Shrek. Because visuals are so powerful, I think there’s a tendency to gravitate towards a concept that actually comes from ancient Greek thinking: that beauty without equals beauty within. In other words, if you’re pretty, you’re a good person, and if you’re ugly, vice versa. Basically, The Picture of Dorian Grey. I’ve never seen a clearer example of this than in cartoons, because the easiest way to establish a character without taking actual time out of the script to develop them is to portray them the way the audience is supposed to perceive them.
But how does that translate to more complex notions about art and beauty, non-pop culture types, perhaps? Maybe it’s recognizing that whereas art of any type is mainly visual, people are only partially visual—appearances and perceptions can be misleading, and in an excessively visual world, perhaps we shouldn’t take the visual for granted.
The Essence of Inscape
In Book X of Plato’s Republic, Plato takes a surprisingly hard stance against poetry. He praises his city for “barr[ing] any kind of poetry that is imitative.” Specifically, he refers to
tragedy and epic, but his expanded explanation also includes painting and, presumably, other art forms. His reasoning is that these do not reflect reality, and are so far removed that they do not contain truth. They are a distraction, a false representation of reality.
Over two thousand years later, Ralph Waldo Emerson sings the praises of the poet, and
poetry, in an essay aptly titled “The Poet.” He exalts the poet for uncovering new truths, putting
words to new ideas and emotions. Where Plato is critical of artistic works and their distance from reality, Emerson embraces the romanticized notion of poet as exploring and revealing reality.
Reading these two stances on the vices and virtues of poetry, I came to reflect on the creative works that make up the Inscape magazine. Do these works reveal something about the world around us, giving us new truths and new realities? Or do they distract from reality, merely imitating what has already been said?
This assumes that Emerson and Plato are working with the same fundamental idea of what constitutes a creative work. But what if there was a differentiation? I turn from Inscape
to the plethora of creative works around us. From Netflix specials to novels to advertisements to the latest Marvel movies, we are surrounded by creative works and are free to pick from endless works to consume for pleasure. In this capitalistic, consumer-driven world, this demands that the majority of creative works are designed for the purpose of entertaining an audience. As such, they follow trends and conventions. They explore topics that are familiar. There are formulas, standards, and frameworks for producing works that will appeal to a specific target audience, although this audience is usually a very broad category so as to reap the most profit.
These works are Plato’s imitative poetry. They are safely controversial and appropriately palatable. They rehash the same ideas and evoke the same emotions. We say of these works, “that moved me,” and then move on.
What Emerson refers to is another kind of poetry. He refers to creative work that is not
interested in audience appeal or conventional topics. Emerson’s concept of poetry is deeply
personal and frightfully honest. The topics they explore are, if not new or unconventional, at
least different, and certainly personal. The poet must burrow deep into the very core of a subject, finding what is unique, and, perhaps, what is universal.
This is the definition of the word “inscape.” Inscape is the fundamental essence of a subject presented through a creative work. Inscape invites its contributors to uncover these essential elements by exploring new ideas, new subjects, and new meanings. Inscape does not succeed by pulling in the biggest audience or creating the most profit from the latest trends. Far from it. Instead, Inscape allows students the freedom to explore reality in new and personal ways with few constraints. Readers of these works are then invited to delve into these new frontiers, to explore depths where other media only scratches the surface. Teasing out and exploring the essential elements of a subject—the inscape—is the inscape of Inscape. Those who participate in Inscape as contributors and readers are challenged to explore and engage on a deeper level. This is Emerson’s idea of poetry and what it hopes to accomplish.
This is not to place more value on “true” poetry rather than “imitative” poetry. They both
hold value and they can both be meaningful. But they offer different ways of engaging with
reality. Inscape is an opportunity and a challenge to any who wish to take a different avenue, and perhaps discover something along the way. Whether you choose to take this path—as creator or reader—is up to you.
I am some old Lite-Brite
Toy, riding in a truck
To somewhere I don’t know.
It is too big for me
And even I can’t see.
But that does not matter.
The darkness doesn’t care,
And the truck even less.
But the truck cannot see
That much farther than me.
For I am just a toy,
And it is just a truck.
We are all helpless, so
It matters not to me,
If my goal, I can’t see.
But I am not just some old Lite-Brite
I am an engine for design
Is the full potential of human creativity.
I might mean nothing
To the Moon and Stars
The infinite cosmic tapestry
But I am more unique than any snowflake.
So, I am okay with being insignificant,
Because that does not make me unimportant.