"The Palace of Art"



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Tennyson's “The Palace of Art” undertakes a self-aware assessment of the role of the artist in both art and society. In her tour through the art-filled palace, the artist's soul experiences and internalizes countless scenes and pieces of art in various media, gaining both an understanding of the past's aesthetics and history and an appreciation of the complex interactions of society, the artist and the world he strives to represent. The series of seven mood-inspiring rooms, in particular, compresses a wide variety of environments, themes and styles in seemingly isolated stanzas.

Those seven stanzas anticipate, if not directly influence, the birth and core developments of the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic and Decadence movements that followed in the decades after the initial publication of “The Palace of Art” in 1832. Though the relationships between “The Palace of Art” and each of the selected works likely do not prove direct causal influence, the interplay between the juxtaposed works does enable a deeper interpretation of their lasting significance and place in the artistic world. Tennyson's poetry clearly has left an enduring mark on Western artists and their artwork.

The hypermedia format serves as a useful metaphor for the social and cognitive networks that grow from references among pieces of art and with the world their creators attempt to capture on various media. Though each piece of art or literature presents a unique combination of style, theme and substance, clear relations between poetry, prose, illustrations and paintings demonstrate the capacity of these features to be abstracted from and reapplied to practically any medium. The significance of the artist and medium in any work or act of art is far from trivial, as Tennyson aims to show in “The Palace of Art,” and as is evident in the study of artists' distinctive styles and unique, subjective interpretations of the natural world and humans' place in it.

The experience of the palace of art seems to resolve, to some extent, the basic conundrum of the position of the artist within or outside of society that troubled Tennyson and motivated “The Lady of Shalott” and “The Palace of Art.” In both poems, the protagonists find isolation from society at large to be stifling to them personally and creatively. “The Palace of Art” leaves some doubt on the table, however, as it becomes clear that no work of art can be entirely isolated from either reality or other works of art and their creators.

Additionally, the appeal and functionality of an aesthetically enriched system to deliver ideas and intellectual content to a mass audience across space and time extends far beyond the popular conception of “art for art's sake.” “The Palace of Art” demonstrates that even short stanzas crafted to deliver isolated moods and scenes have far-reaching influences on art and people's perception of the world in ways that even the artist cannot predict at the time of creation.