How The Red Wheelbarrow Shows that Art is Moving Away From the Senses

Categories: The Red Wheelbarrow

Art and social status complement each other in today's culture. When a work of art is present there is an automatic response to attempt an in-depth, sophisticated analysis of the piece. By doing so that person has established their place in intellectual society. However, he/she has also lost a fundamental part of existence, the senses. The senses have no education requirement to understand. They are what they are: emotions. In Susan Sontag's essay, "Against Interpretation", the point is made clear that interpretation of all mediums of art has lost the vital connection to the senses and has become more of an act of ranking in society.

Nowadays art is held as a class standing rather than an experience, the more intellectual the interpretation the more likely that person has a high status in society. Art should not be a tool for climbing the social ladder. The intrusion of intellect on art is prevalent in the poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams.

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Overly critiqued and scrutinized, "The Red Wheelbarrow" serves as an example of the senses fading away in society. As today's culture moves further away from experiencing art for art's sake, the senses will disappear; creating a society based solely upon intellect and not emotion or even intuition.

The overpowering nature of interpretation on the senses is present in many critiques of William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow." However upon the first reading of the poem the reader is struck by its simplicity. The beauty of the poem lies in the contrasting colors of the red wheelbarrow and the white chickens.

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Describing the wheelbarrow in three simple steps - first its color, second the rainwater, and thirdly the white chickens - slowly walks the reader through the farm. The three parts allow a focus on each segment of the wheelbarrow's surroundings. These sections empower the reader to expand upon the foundation laid by Williams. Tranquil farm images are essential to the poem. While experiencing the poem, the reader is able to grasp more than what the words create. Williams does not describe the day on the farm. Yet a sun is rising in the background, a cool air blowing, and mist rolling over a grassy field. All of these images underlie the red wheelbarrow beside the white chickens. Due to the poem's clarity, anyone can view the farm. The senses are able to run wild and purely enjoy the one sentence that the poem is comprised of. It appears as though the poem has an abrupt ending, however Williams' uses the shortness of the poem to the reader's advantage. The less there is to comprehend the more the senses can picture. 'There is no fumbling over intellectual words. The wheelbarrow is what it is; there is no requirement for the wheelbarrow to symbolize the labor- intensive nature of farming for a person to enjoy the poem.

It is easy to over analyze simplicity. Especially in today's society there is a sense of urgency to find a deeper meaning and be the first to discover. This dash destroys poems like Williams'. By pulling the poem apart, word-by-word, disconnected interpretations are found, ruining the beauty present in the poem. Quentin Youngberg provides an in-depth perception of the imagery presented by Williams in his analysis of "The Red Wheelbarrow". Youngberg states that Williams' "concentrated economy of imagery" does more than appeal to the senses but also creates a connection of man to "nature, as well as the interior unity necessary for his survival" (Youngberg 152). The fact that the poem comprises one sentence stresses the importance of unity shown through the poem. Dividing the poem into four pieces, Youngberg notices a connection to the life cycle and the seasons. The number four is "associated directly with the earth, nature, and the circle (itself a symbol of unity)" (Youngberg 152). Youngberg recognizes the "powerfully simple" aspects of the poem which takes place "most likely [in] the yard of a farmhouse" (152). The interpretations made in this analysis take the top layer of the obvious a bit deeper.

Youngberg goes as far as to connect the red color of the wheelbarrow to be a symbol of "the maturation of a woman," red being identifiable with "the menstruation cycle, the natural sign of sexual maturity" (152). Youngberg stresses the subtle connections Williams makes to growth, Mother Earth, and the life cycle, which are all unified.

Youngberg provides the unsuspecting reader of the poem with a mildly deep insight that, for the most part, does not intrude on the beauty instilled in the poem. However Youngberg has a tendency to over analyze the natural imagery. Unity is a subtle detail of the poem and does not distract from the beauty. Unification stresses the simple nature of the poem. In one sentence Williams provides the reader with a placid yet stunning image. Yet Youngberg delves too deep when he states that the three images of the wheelbarrow, rainwater, and chickens are "symbolic of purification, fertility, and growth" (152). These words become a slippery slope for Youngberg as he continues to make eccentric claims on the color of the chickens and the color of the wheelbarrow. The fact that the chickens are white "represent[s] the purity and innocence" that "accentuates the importance of a profound simplicity in communion and unity among humans and nature" (Youngberg 152).

There is no mention of humans in the poem. If the reader envisions a person as the main focus while reading, there is a serious misunderstanding. The poem is centered on the wheelbarrow and its immediate surroundings. The only human that should be present would merely be background to the wheelbarrow. It is also not required that the chickens be white, brown would suffice. Williams is primarily providing the reader with the portrayal of a placid farm. The contrasting colors solely provide a striking image for the reader. Youngberg takes his interpretations beyond when he mentions the connection between red and menstruation. At this point his argument has gone obscure. Interpretation never ends, as Youngberg proves, as he takes his connection to Mother Earth to the point of connecting red to blood. If this continues, eventually Youngberg will reach a point that is out of the stratosphere of the original intent of the poem.

The senses are vital to life. What would life be without being able to witness the beauty of cherry trees blossoming in the springtime? Without being able to listen to the musical artistry of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Senses are experiences. However a complete abandonment of intellect would create a void in the expansion of the mind and an overly sensitive society. There is an aspect of comprehension and intellectual activity that goes into a sensory experience. The senses must be able to recognize what exactly is that scent, sound, or image. Yet that should be the sole purpose of intellect. Intellectual capabilities should never interfere with the senses. Just merely aid in the comprehension. At times emotions overwhelm logic, creating a situation acted upon primarily by impulses. An overly sensitive situation is volatile. Dangerous situations are created when actions are made based on impulse. However, intuition is guided mainly by the senses and provides faux logic. Using the senses allows for intuition to take hold; knowing whether a dark alley is safe is felt in the gut. Intuition aids in easing impulses. Because intuition relies mainly on the senses, it brings forth a better understanding between people.

There is no straight cut, only one correct answer that logic and intellect provide. Intuition and emotions are more feel flowing, giving way for grey areas. Due to this connection of the senses and intuition society should not be dependent upon intellect. Senses bring people together. There is no education necessary to feel that freesia is a glorious smell or feel happy upon seeing the color yellow. Intellect divides people. Interpretations often require background knowledge of the subject especially when comparing two pieces. Without knowing who Jackson Pollack was and what exactly is splatter painting then the analysis of John Smith's paintings would be useless. There is constantly an underlying assumption of common knowledge. The senses are inherent and do not demand acquiescence merely strengthening. Intellect does not require attention; the senses are rapidly disappearing, which would affect more aspects of daily life than a minor loss of intellect.

Returning to the senses would create a world that participates more with the soul than the brain. The senses allow for every individual to experience art without the necessity to interpret. Without the added stress of interpretation, art becomes universal, making each individual equal. Art is intended for the masses, it is a chance for the artist to display his/her experiences. The only way for art to be spread is to move from an intellectually based society to an increasingly sensible society.

Works Cited

  1. Youngberg, Quentin. "William's The Red Wheelbarrow". The Explicator. 58, 3. (2000): 152. direct=true&db=a9h&AN=3318895&site=ehost-live>. 13 May 2008.
Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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How The Red Wheelbarrow Shows that Art is Moving Away From the Senses. (2023, Apr 19). Retrieved from

How The Red Wheelbarrow Shows that Art is Moving Away From the Senses essay
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