i’ve never understood the urge of some people to explain what a piece of art means to them, whether it be a painting, a poem, or a song. even if it’s their own piece.
don’t get me wrong, art is subjective. it’s supposed to mean something to you. even if it’s just an emotional reaction, a feeling. but what it means to you is likely not what it means to me and vice versa, and if i tell you what a piece of art means to me it can actually ruin that art for you. taint it. you find you suddenly don’t like it so much anymore.
i’ve experienced this sensation more than once, from both sides of the equation. when i was in high school i fancied myself a poet, and submitted a couple of poems to a literary journal some people in my school district put together. the poems were accepted, and they called me up to come pick up my copy, and even read it aloud if i felt so inclined.
being of a shy and reclusive nature, i declined the opportunity to read it aloud, but stopped by for my own copy, as i thought that was pretty cool. the girls who were in charge of the whole thing were happy to meet me, and told me they liked my poems, yadda yadda yadda. one of them asked me what the poems meant, one in particular. not wishing to go into it, as i found it hard to put into words anyway, i just said whatever it means to you. a generic answer. so she told me what it meant to her.
and i really wished she hadn’t told me. i was almost offended. it was virtually the opposite of what i was feeling when i wrote it. made me feel like my poem was pure adolescent drivel (which i guess it was, seeing as i was probably 17 at the time, but not that kind of adolescent drivel anyway). i tried to be polite about it. didn’t want to be too much of a dick. but i was taken aback, just sort of laughed, a little astonished, and said “no, that’s not what it means.” they laughed too, so i hopefully didn’t embarrass the girl too much, but even if i did i suppose she’s over it by now. ought to be anyway.
and, on the other side, i was posting art on here from some dude, don’t remember his name now. erotic art, arguably blasphemous in nature. i just thought it looked cool. that’s pretty much my entire criteria for what i post on here.
but the guy had commentary on each piece. i mean that’s his right- it’s his art, his website, he can do whatever he wants. but his commentary made me not like the pictures as much. they suddenly didn’t look so cool anymore. i mean i posted them anyway. just without the artist’s drivel to ruin it for everybody else.
i think that’s kind of interesting, how it works both ways. take that girl who was interpreting my poem back in high school, for instance. if i had taken the time to go into what the poem was “supposed” to mean, would she have liked it as much? would it have made her wish it wasn’t accepted into her precious journal? quite possibly. i could have potentially ruined the experience of the poem for her, just as she nearly ruined the pride i had in my poem in the first place.
not everyone has my opinion on art, i realize. i’ve actually gotten into arguments with friends over it. for me, art is an aesthetic, emotional experience. not intended to have any meaning other than that. when you tell me some perceived “meaning”, you just took away my experience. you tainted it. other people thrive on these “meanings”, love to interpret and discuss.
where the difference becomes particularly glaring is in music. i enjoy music. i just frankly don’t pay much attention to the words. to me the vocals are just another instrument, adding further melody and rhythm to the song. i was dating a girl who was really into Tool and she told me about how Stinkfist was about being fisted. it was frankly obvious once she told me, but i had literally never even thought about it, just enjoyed the song. it took me along time to enjoy the song again after she told me that. i was pissed. she took a song i really liked and gave it the mental imagery of Maynard James Keenan getting fistfucked up his asshole. i was all “goddamnit why did you have to tell me that”.
and before i get asks telling me how i missed the point of the song, of how he was using it as a metaphor, or how he said it was “about choosing compassion over fear,” i don’t care. i don’t deny him his meaning. perhaps the writing of it was deeply cathartic for him, and perhaps for others as well. and that’s great.
me, i want to get lost in how he sings the syllables to the words that could just as easily be pure gibberish, for how much it would affect my enjoyment of the song.
my girlfriend couldn’t understand that. just as i couldn’t understand her urge to dissect a song for its deeper meaning and metaphor.
it’s not that i’m incapable of understanding it, or respecting the genius of it.
it’s just that i don’t care. it’s not what i look for in a song. i want something i can bang my head to, or tap my feet, or just get lost in the sublime beauty that i experience when i listen to it.
i don’t deny you your meaning. your experience.
i just don’t want to hear about it, because it has an adverse effect on mine.
keep it something mysterious and magical, that you can’t quite put into words.
an emotion you can’t name, that fades further from your grasp the more you try to describe it or define.
that’s what art is about for me.
Zdzislaw Beksinski refused to discuss the meaning of his paintings. insisted they were just images he saw in his head, in his dreams. refused to entertain possible meanings offered to him by others. the conversation began, and ended, with the painting itself.
i like that.