Art and artistry in Katherine Anne Porter : iconographic figures and festive patterns.
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Werner, Karen Svendsen.
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Exploring how art influences the works of Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980), this study examines the way Porter’s fictional narrative patterns adapt and arrange images from paintings, folk art, and prints. In her structural response to artistic issues prevalent during the Modernist Period, Porter runs her literary versions of iconographic figures through festive patterns to depict the changes individuals experience when significant cultural shifts envelop them. Besides employing grotesque images to portray suffering, Porter evokes the life-death-rebirth cycle of festive patterns, also called folk carnival humor by Mikhail Bakhtin, to convey hope for people and the continuation of their culture during times of turmoil. Medieval, renaissance, and modernist artwork provides Porter with images and structural approaches. Reflecting the traits of typology and the subjects of medieval iconography, Porter’s characters function by fulfilling past figures such as Eve and by anticipating literary figures in the future. As part of the development of her literary figures in Noon Wine, Porter blends influences from the Agrarians with her appreciation of renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel to emphasize the relationship between her characters and the landscape. Porter’s associations with modernist Mexican artists and her knowledge of the successors to Hans Holbein’s Dance of Death shape her interpretation of the arts and her portrayal of death in stories such as “María Concepción.” Through Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio, Porter develops an understanding of Franz Boas’s theories, which contribute to her sense of folk culture, foster within her a sense of the chronological connectedness of time, and lead her to treat artwork as archeological artifacts. These multi-layered dimensions of Porter’s images also reflect her interest in the allusive modernist paintings of Henri Matisse and the literary theory of T.S. Eliot. Her engagement with modernist debates over the merits of the city appears in “The Cracked Looking-Glass,” a story positing Porter’s agrarian challenge to James Joyce’s urban-centered approach to art and writing.