Thoughts on Art: Empathy and TMI
Also, I'm afraid the truth is going to be disappointing.
I'm good at extrapolating scenarios from very little fact. I can start with one thing someone says or does and, if my mood is right, build a world around that. This is where art comes from. If I am writing or drawing in the first person, so to speak, it would be folly to assume the message is autobiographical.
Even if it is about me, it might not be about just me but my assessment of humanity; prove me wrong. It might be AlternateTimelineMe, a story about something that never happened but could have had I taken one more or one less step down a given road. It could be what I think is going on in someone else's mind. I wrote a series of poems in 1998 about where I thought my friend Heather was at the moment. She said most of them held a kernel of the truth.
Performer Seal says he doesn't like to print the lyrics of his songs; he knows people sometimes don't hear them correctly, and what they hear may be more meaningful that what he wrote. Tim, one of my soulmates who is no longer with us, was a songwriter. One of his best songs is a good example of artistic extrapolation. Here are some of the lyrics:
You call me Lucifer; you call me Satan.You call me by a thousand different names.You know not my face, for my features are unclear...But I've probably been your friend for many a year.I can attest that Tim was not a Satanist nor devil-worshipper; he actually had an enormous heart and was conflicted as only an empath can be. The song was on a metaphysical level about the evil that humans perpetuate* against one another. On the literal level, it was based on a movie, Fear No Evil. He - we - often watched bad horror movies looking for song material. It was the '80s. He had a Marshall half-stack. Easy math.
At the time he was writing that song, I hadn't met Tim yet. I was in the hospital recovering from childbirth, high on morphine. I had a crazy drug-induced dream that was essentially a rock opera: geeky kid was bullied in school, fell in love with a girl; leaves swirled around the football field, demons were summoned, the usual. The next day I told a friend about the dream and we laughed at my weirdness.
Not that it's a very exclusive plot, but guess what the movie Fear No Evil is about? It's fun to pretend there was an ethereal connection between Tim and me even before we met, like fate. Prove me wrong.
Art isn't meant to be an exact representation of reality - at least not the reality we can easily access with our five known senses. If the painting or story is 100% true-to-life, we are amazed, but then we move on. Art needs to convey to us something that we cannot touch but can believe is real, pretend evidence that our most alien feelings about ourselves are shared by others. Sometimes the artist doesn't find that internally but observes something special in other people.
And that's why there can't be a correct answer, not really.
My best advice is this: find art that speaks to you. Listen for the echo, and hear what it reflects back to your soul. Don't worry about what it's supposed to mean, or what somebody else thinks it means, unless you really need to know.
Keep your magic in your pocket.
*There was discussion about whether I meant perpetrate; after careful consideration I'm sure that perpetuate is what I mean, because we keep damn doing it to each other.
***Emily, I kept the rock but threw everything else out, because clearly this was a spell for flying. Let me know how you build the next one.