The Demon and the Angel
About the book:
A work of art, whether a painting, a dance, a poem, or a jazz composition, can be admired in its own right. But how does the artist actually create his or her work? What is the source of an artist’s inspiration? What is the force that impels the artist to set down a vision that becomes art?
In this groundbreaking book, Edward Hirsch explores the concept of duende, that mysterious, highly potent power of creativity that results in a work of art. With examples ranging from Federico García Lorca’s wrestling with darkness as he discovered the fountain of words within himself to Martha Graham’s creation of her most emotional dances, from the canvases of Robert Motherwell to William Blake’s celestial visions, Hirsch taps into the artistic imagination and explains, in terms illuminating and emotional, how different artists respond to the power and demonic energy of creative impulse.
About the author:
Edward Hirsch is the author of many books, including five books of poetry. He also writes a weekly poetry column for the Washington Post Book World. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Book Critics Circle award, the Prix de Rome, and a MacArthur Fellowship. He is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in New York City.
Q. What is an ars poetica? How might The Demon and the Angel as a whole be deemed an ars poetica? And how did this book enrich, challenge, or alter your previously held notions of modernism, primitivism, individuality, and spirituality in art? Also, what did the book teach you about the bonds existing between creativity and nighttime?
Q. “Art is by definition an incarnate form of experience,” Hirsch maintains at the end of the chapter entitled “A Spectacular Meteor.” What exactly does he mean by this-both in general and in terms of this book particularly?
Q. Consider these three lines from the poem “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens: “Death is the mother of Beauty; hence from her, / Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams / And our desires.” How do these lines reflect, refract, echo, or expand on the ideas of mortality presented and parsed throughout this book?
Q. What, in Hirsch’s well-considered view, did the duende mean to Lorca? What did the daimon mean to Yeats? And what did angels mean to Rilke? And to Klee? Comparatively or associatively discuss the two primary metaphors (demons and angels) of The Demon and the Angel.
Q. Hirsch begins one chapter (“A Person Must Control His Thoughts in a Dream”) by claiming: “It is too reductive to think of artistic creation as merely putting oneself in a trance state. We need a fresh vocabulary, a fuller and more enhanced notion of the artistic trance state in which one also actively thinks.” Does this book, in your view, provide such a “fresh vocabulary”?
Q. In the chapters entitled “Paint It Black” and “Motherwell’s Black” Hirsch investigates the use of the color black by certain (primarily American) painters. Who were these artists, and to what aesthetic and thematic ends did they employ black paint? Should we see their black-based concepts and creations sacred? Profane? Angelic? Demonic? Otherwise? While considering your views in this regard, revisit the chapter on Goya’s inspirations and intentions (“The Black Paintings”) from much earlier in the text.
Q. Identify and discuss the connections Hirsch makes between flamenco music and the blues, between duende and black soul, in the “Ancient Music and Fresh Forms” chapter, as well as those he makes between Spanish cante jondo and American jazz in the subsequent chapter. What other musical forms (or representative musicians) would you contribute to this pivotal discussion as supplementary or additional evidence, and why?
Q. What representative and distinctly American traits does Hirsch recognize in the demon and the angel as artistic/mythic/symbolic/cosmic constructs? Consider in particular the chapter entitled “The Sublime Is Now.”
Q. Look again at the book’s final four paragraphs. What, ultimately, do the demon and angel have in common? And in what key ways are they different? How does Hirsch suggest that we might identify these similar yet dissimilar muses?
Q. Many books on the nature of creativity-or on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the creative endeavor-have been published. Conclude your exploration of this book by comparing and contrasting it with other works you have read on the craft, history, impulse, and/or mystery of artistic inspiration.