Thursday, January 26, 2012

Offer Your Art Up to the Whole World

As if to contribute to yesterday's discussion on asking the most basic questions about art, Lucinda Williams says this, "Above all, the listener should be able to understand the poem or the song, not be forced to unravel a complicated, self-indulgent puzzle. Offer your art up to the whole world, not just an elite few." It's her birthday, that fact and this quotation thanks to The Writer's Almanac. Thanks to Wikipedia and Creative Commons for Lucinda with her guitar.

Of course, Lucinda's music and lyrics are right out there, raw and repetitive (in the way refrains are, so we can sing along and really feel it), her heart offered up to the world. Her dad is the poet Miller Williams, and I got to hear them together in a program of the Poetry Center at the Art Institute of Chicago once! Great evening.

But her country-music out-thereness is not for everybody. And I don't mind unraveling...a braid, or putting together a puzzle, if I see that the unraveling frees the wild mane or the jigsaw diligence reveals the whole with my participation, and if there is something of interest available right away. So it is still a matter of balance. We can be available and accessible as artists and still offer a reasonable challenge.

If we are seeing something new, that's what we want to show, yes? If we are feeling something intensely that we sense is probably a shared feeling, we want to communicate our experience, not just express a feeling (the self-indulgence Lucinda warns against).

Oh, I know that English departments have broken off from Communications departments on just this issue, with Communications identified with delivering information for some specific purpose (advertising or public relations, journalism or broadcast journalism, etc.). But what I mean is that when I read or write a poem, I am hoping to commune with someone in some way!

Uh, and it's not "an elite few," really, I hope, but it is an intimate communion with each member of the community I find there. Let us share this moment together, whoever we are, via the tangible poem or song and the intangible experience created by it.


nene said...

Thanks for the intro to Lucinda Williams. She sings with a melancholy sound that I so much appreciate.

Kathleen said...

Thanks, nene!

I am sort of giggling (mentally) at the blatant contradiction (ironic) that I seem to be advocating offering your art up to the world and it being "not for everybody"! But that is, in part, what I am getting at. We don't have to judge the impulse (to share with the world, or to be "accessible" or straightforward in some way) as wrong just because our tastes or preferences might be for a different kind of song or poem. Likewise, we don't have to judge as "elitist" or wrong a certain kind of very sophisticated poem or one that's doing cool, innovative things!

There are different ways of being in the world. So there are different kinds of artistic expression. We don't have to snarkily dismiss one over another, etc. Or confuse personal taste with artistic judgment.

2nd irony: I sometimes write poems that seem perfectly clear to me but which have to be unraveled by readers. Sigh...

3rd irony: I am, except for nene, talking to myself, which might be perceived as self-indulgent.

Oh, I make myself laugh!! (mentally)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Great post! I studied with Miller and you can see his influence in Lucinda Williams' work and philosophy.

I definitely agree about wanting to commune when I read and wanting to offer that communion when I write.

Hear, hear!

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Sandy, and I am glad to know that!!

Nancy Devine said...

well put. i don't mind grappling with material, if it's worth it. and when i write i try to get exactly the thing about which i'm writing....which could mean what i've written is complicated.

Kathleen said...

I like what you said, Nancy. And I love to grapple with what the poet is grappling with, so I appreciate the poem that helps me do it, the poet who commits to the complication!

Molly said...

Kathleen, I've been thinking about this same quote all morning, arguing with myself and Lucinda (whose music I love). I don't want art to be completely fenced off from everyone's understanding..... but, I do love a bit of mystery, of "unraveling the wild mane" (as you so aptly put it). I do love art's evocative power, so that perhaps not everything is right out there for the taking, but with a bit of interpretation brings insight or joy or just a willingness to be in the Mystery. Ok, I was going to blog about this today, but now I don't have to -- great post!

Kathleen said...

Thanks, Molly, and I keep mulling it over, too. I mix it up with Gwendolyn Brooks's reminder that we are supposed to go on thinking! And, as accessible as Lucinda Williams is, I do go on thinking after listening to her songs! So what she has in music, melody, mood, vocal tone and rasp, we, as poets, provide in our formal ways including some mystery, yes? Somehow there is a balance.

Cathy said...

There are no right or wrong answers to this question, which is one reason some people find the arts in general so hard to stomach. When there's no exact value for clarity or perfect quota for mystery, there's also no sharp delineation between "good art" and "bad art." That's part of the appeal of math.

Kathleen said...

Wow, Cathy, what a clear statement about why many people resist the arts.

Ah, and now I want to know: Is there "good math" and "bad math"?