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The Idea of Order at Key West

The Idea of Order at Key West

by Wallace Stevens

Art and Culture Theme

Despite what you may have seen on The Voice, or early rounds of American Idol, singing is an art. That means singers are artists. For his part, Stevens wanted us to make this association in "The Idea of Order at Key West." At its heart, this poem is really about art's perception-altering powers, the way art can change the audience's perception of reality for a moment, or forever. Consider: would you feel the same way about a sunset if there wasn't thousands of years of art and literature helping us to think about that sunset? Probably not. You can run, but you can't hide. Art can be pretty sneaky!

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. Why do you think the poem describes a singer, as opposed to a painter, or a sculptor? Heck, why not a poet? 
  2. What are the limits (if any) of art in this poem? 
  3. Can you think of an example of a way art has altered your perception of something? Was it a positive experience or a negative one? Did it make a lasting impression, or was the impact fleeting?
  4. Can a society function without art? If art was absent, what would take its place?
  5. Is art's impact on perception and society always positive? Is there any danger in art's perception-altering power? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

No escape? Oh, really? Despite what the poem suggests, the perception-altering power of art is not inescapable. The audience has to be open to the experience to be affected by the art.

No, really. There's no escape. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, whether you seek it out or try to avoid it, the poem shows how art plays a part in how you see yourself and the world around you.

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