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Guest Blog: 10 Examples of Ekphrasis in Contemporary Literature

September 29, 2013

Interesting Literature

By Patrick Smith, Bainbridge State College, Georgia

Writers have drawn on vivid descriptions of the visual arts to enhance their work since Homer famously used 130 lines to describe the chronicle emblazoned on Achilles’s shield in Book 18 of Homer’s Iliad more than 2,500 years ago.

Shield1Ekphrasis—the representation in language of a work of art—acts as an organizing principle in poetry and fiction, making explicit the connection between art, storytelling, and life. Acting in multiple roles in contemporary literature—both as an interpretive key to a work of art (either real or imagined) and as a descriptive device that enriches narrative and explores the relationship between writer and audience—those descriptions create, Michael Trussler writes, “a kind of ontological miniature that signals a world beyond the confines of the text.”

Although ekphrasis hasn’t been explored to the extent it deserves in contemporary literature, plenty of writers view art as a grounding point…

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