When creating, whether it be literature or art, one of the top concerns is how to reach an audience. The common answer to this pondering is to connect emotionally with an audience. This is of course necessary, but to what degree do we implement it? There are those that simply take in what they are looking at or reading, and those that have to analyze it. Lately, the push seems to be toward catering to the crowd that analyzes. As human beings, we want to understand things, but at what point does it ruin the experience?
How many of you have read a book or a poem, or have been to a museum with a friend or family member and have heard the words “I just don’t get it.” Or worse, “Why isn’t there a plaque to explain what I’m supposed to be looking at?” My question is: When did we start needing people to tell us how to feel and react? It’s not a test with one correct answer; the arts are open to interpretation and are wholly subjective. Yet there are whole categories of study now that are devoted to telling you that there is one correct interpretation, how to properly analyze literature and art.
According to an article on Reader’s Digest (linked below), “Recent neurological research suggests that feeling and cognition coincide, which is to say that a major factor in experiencing a feeling is the assessment of it. This means that, despite the modernist turn toward the objective mode (Hemingway, Hammett, etc.), and the constant drumbeat of “show, don’t tell,” readers need some processing of feeling to register it meaningfully.”
I have never agreed with this philosophy, choosing to believe that viewers and readers are capable of making connections on their own. If they have had any emotional response at all, the author or artist has succeeded in their job. No two people can have the same interpretation of something because they do not have the same backgrounds. The solution to this is not to try and force reader and viewers to the same point of view through more backstory or explanation. Recently, through taking a translation course, I have come to appreciate this even more through the translation of Japanese haiku (5-7-5 syllable count) and tanka (5-7-5-7-7 syllable count) poetic forms. These are rooted in subtlety, ambiguity, and the belief that one can glean much out of few words.
My favorite example of this, is a tanka poem by Machi Tawara. My translation of this work is:
This poem gets quite the array of reactions. To some it captures the whimsical nature of youth, falling in love so easily. To others, it captures despair. I myself am on the side of whimsy because I associate it with a silly game that I learned about in my childhood, wishing upon a daisy by plucking its petals. My point is that strong emotional reactions can be gleaned in few words and with no elaboration.
My challenge to you, readers, is to simply take in a work of art and notice your initial reaction to it, or to simply enjoy the story of a written work without analyzing it. You are free to like or dislike it, just allow it to illicit a reaction rather than ask what it is supposed to be or what the artist may have been channeling when they created it. Those who create know that it is subjective (or should). Artists especially keep this in mind and appreciate the myriad of responses. Further, not everything created has grand meaning, sometimes they are works of pure emotion, not thought. I challenge you to try your own hand at a haiku or tanka poem to see just how much can be conveyed in few words and without explanation and ask yourselves: Does it really need more? Thank you for tolerating my rant and I leave you with my favorite quote by Edgar Allan Poe:
“I need scarcely observe that a poem deserves its title only inasmuch as it excites, by elevating the soul. ... That degree of excitement which would entitle a poem to be so called at all, cannot be sustained throughout a composition of any great length.”
Reader’s Digest, “Exploring Feeling”:https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/emotion-vs-feeling-evoke-readers