One general comment on the entire book -- throughout her essays Winterson uses "she" to refer to the artist under discussion. That affected me greatly, more than I thought it would. The use of "he" as a generic pronoun is not gender neutral. The casual assumption from this female author that the artist she is in dialogue with is also female was, for me, quite dazzling.
The title essay is the longest, and deals with Winterson's discovery that paintings can be as rewarding as writing, if you give them the attention they deserve, not just a glance as you dash through a gallery. The attention given to a piece of art is what makes it speak -- if we say blithely that 'it says nothing to me', she suggests we are really saying we have nothing to say to it. Art is vital to a conscious life, and she makes it clear that the title is a verb, not a noun. "...the tragic paradigm of human life is lack, loss, finality, a primitive doomsaying that has not been repealed by technology or medical science. The arts stand in the way of this doomsaying. Art objects."
In the very intriguing essay "Writer, Reader, Words ", there are insights that could apply to novel readers like ourselves: "The Greek myths warn us of the dangers of recognising no reality but our own. Art is a way into other realities, other personalities. When I let myself be affected by a book, I let into myself new customs and new desires. The book does not reproduce me, it re-defines me, pushes at my boundaries, shatters the palings that guard my heart."
Included also are two related essays about Virginia Woolf, both lovely and erudite and inspiring. I'm encouraged to reread The Waves (one of Winterson's favourites) which I first read about ten years ago, and see what I make of it now. I loved it the first time, simply as poetry, and wonder if I'll appreciate it even more now.
There are so many thought provoking lines in this book; I can hardly choose which ones to share. One that I really liked, though, was in the piece "Imagination and Reality". In discussing the value of art she states "the world is not flat and neither is reality. Reality is continuous, multiple, simultaneous, complex, abundant and partly invisible. The imagination alone can fathom this and it reveals its fathomings through art."
I feel as if I should follow Stefanie's Emersonian example and examine each essay minutely for all the depth of intelligence contained in each one. But then I would probably never (or very belatedly) produce any kind of reflection, and I just want to share the wonder of this book, and hope that anyone else with a copy laying about will pick it up and finally read it. It repays close reading tenfold. I loved it.