Secret Designs/Public Shapes: Ekphrastic Tensions in Hildegard’s Scivias

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The art critic Roberta Smith discusses in an interview with Sarah Thornton the process of writing reviews of museum or gallery shows that are accessible to a large public: “Art accumulates meaning through an extended collaborative act … You put into words something that everyone has seen. That click from language back into the memory bank of experience is so exquisite. It is like having your vision sparked.”1 She describes the translation of the visual to the verbal and its subsequent “fit” with memory as “so exquisite” but gives no logical reason for why this is so. Her last statement—“it is like having your vision sparked”—is vague to the point of the mystical. Yet I believe Smith’s observation is an important one, if more intuited than explicated. It hints at not only the physical capacity of seeing, or the imaginative phantasm—the vividness of visuals inside our minds—but also the instant of understanding, the proverbial click and spark of sudden clarity. Her statement suggests that the visual experience alone is not sufficient for the solidification of knowledge nor the communication of meaning but that a verbal answer, which in turn accesses the memory banks (which are a great deal visual in themselves), is the collaboration required for communicative meaning. In this model, a work of art is understood not as an isolated or singular entity but as an amalgamation of varied media created in response to one another.


Memory Bank Public Experience English Poetry Visual Imagination Medieval Literature 
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© Margaret Cotter-Lynch and Brad Herzog 2012

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