Proposal for an illustrated book on Modern Polyartistry

Polyartistry has been my coinage (acknowledged by Merriam Webster over two decades ago) for artists who do distinguished work in two or more artistic domains that are nonadjacent. (That would disqualify an artist who excels in adjacent arts such as painting and photography, say, or poetry and fiction, and artists who combine separate arts into a single form, such as Wagnerian opera. It would exclude as well a painter who merely dabbled in poetry or playwriting, rather than excelling at it, such as Pablo Picasso.) After defining the polyartistic imagination in general, I would have chapter(s) on such historical precursors as Leonardo da Vinci and William Blake. In the next chapters, I plan to reinterpret Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the Bauhaus as polyartistic movements, showing how endeavors in several arts esthetically resemble one another in each group.

The remainder of the book will be devoted to discussing modern exemplars, tentatively organized around the following chapters: 1) Marcel Duchamp, 2) L. Moholy-Nagy, 3) El Lissitzky-Theo van Doesburg-Hans (Jean) Arp, 4) Kurt Schwitters, 5) Jean Cocteau-Wyndham Lewis, 6) R. Buckminster Fuller, 7) John Cage. Concluding chapters will cover the polyartistic activities of such contemporaries as Leonora Carrington, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Michael Show, Dan Graham, Charles Henri Ford, Robert Morris, Dick Higgins, Meredith Monk, and Tom Phillips, among others. In most of these chapters I expect to define qualities common to a polyartist’s work in more than one domain and/or identify those fundamental esthetic ideas that are expressed in various arts. The key to Moholy-Nagy, for instance, is geometric structuring; to John Cage, nonhierarchic space and time. My radical conclusion would suggest that the polyartist is a different kind of creative figure, whose oeuvre cannot be compared with those of monoartists, any more than a writer be compared with a painter, and then that polyartists are best considered as their own breed, with their own traditions, who would best be compared with one another.

Modern Polyartistry should be about 70,000 words in length, with chapters of roughly 5,000 words apiece, and include many illustrations of visual art, musical scores, and literary texts. It should particularly interest students, teachers, and adventurous practitioners of all the arts.