Sketch for an Aesthetic Project Themes

Jay Wright

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cooped up in his rooms, the artist-narrator cannot create. He must depart to see emptiness, to remember a vibrant and colorful life, and to fashion his aesthetic from both conditions.

Aesthetics has to do with the artful and beautiful qualities of an artifact or an expression. The arts are characterized by intangibles that tend to defy descriptive analysis, and a precise meaning of aesthetics and aesthetic qualities may be relative to the individual artist and perceiver. Everyone, however, whether creative artist, inventor, layperson, or devotee, responds emotionally and intellectually to aesthetic qualities of harmony, symmetry, motion or rhythm, perception, sonority and tone, and the effects these and related elements have on the senses.

In “Sketch for an Aesthetic Project,” Wright associates the restless search for the moment of creation with memory, history, and immediate reality. His speaker relates the total experience of intimate awareness about his surroundings, and this intellectual totality cannot be divorced from what he knows experientially. Wright does not quote Kinsella spuriously, for love is the principle of the artist’s desire to create something beautiful. An artistic person cannot function without love, just as the tension love produces must be recognized as being stifled should he remain pensive in his cold rooms, avoiding the world outside.

The speaker loves his tranquil home and he loves Harlem. He comes to recognize and accept his ability to assimilate both places just as he can assimilate place and history. Slavers and “ingenuous slavers” can make no art; their anticipations of landfall are fruitless. Their cargo means more to him because he can connect the descendants of the cargo to something wonderful even if it is maddening. The sickly images of “cankered bodies” and the “bloody parchments” are the stuff of creation.

The music of the last section culminates the gathering process of his understanding, for the aesthetic gesture springs from those balances described by the “mythic shriek” of awareness, the “illusion of solitude,” the “swift and mad,” the dark and light. Wright has found that aesthetic principles make for a delicate balance of these images to one who resorts to understanding history, the spirituality offered by the mundane, and the divinely inspired perceptions of one’s own self-worth.