At one level the point is simple. We don’t expect systems of representation to replace one another. They help each other out; they interest themselves in what one system can do that the other can’t, or can do only limpingly; they go on thinking about what it is in the human condition that calls up—calls on—such a diversity of languages. A performance of a painting is no doubt aware that in the end it is nothing but words on a page, and will be judged as such; but judged (at any rate, this is how I respond to Williams on Bruegel) by some new kind of arrest or movement in the words, brought on by a reaching out—an exposure—to what in the world can’t be said. New phrasing, a new tempo, new kinds of rubato. A performance of a painting ought also to signal ar every point […] that it’s a rendering of something that is being looked back at, time after time as the performance continues, and being found incomprehensible. […]

Go back to the idea that a poem about a painting is, at its best, something like a performance. The analogy is worth proposing, at least as counter to the ekphrasis line of thought, but of course it breaks down. Music is (mostly) composed to be performed, pictures are (mostly) not. A musical performance is of the notes on the page, maybe later traditions of rendering and so on. A poetic performance is not of notes at all, but of an existing complete (anti-)text—a performance that has already taken place, and whose sound is inaudible. Nonetheless poems about paintings regularly seem to want the kind of closeness—the obedience, the accuracy, the technicality—of great non-virtuoso interpretations. But interpreting what is the question.

T.J. Clark, “What Is the Burglar After?”