1. AdventureAlways
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    AdventureAlways New Member

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    Which matters more, the artist's intent or the audiences reaction?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by AdventureAlways, Oct 7, 2010.

    This is an idea I have been struggling with for a while. Is the importance of a piece in the eye of its maker or the eyes of the public?
    If the artist is true to himself then he will be happy with his work as a representation for his ideas and emotions, but if the audience cannot understand his work then his message is lost on a public who will no recognize it. This is a struggle that I am only sure rests within the bounds of balance, but artists seem to take one side or the other, so which do you believe is more important?
     
  2. FrankB
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    FrankB Member

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    If the audience cannot understand his work then he has failed as a writer.

    To write is to communicate. To fail to communicate is to fail to write.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Assuming the writer wants to make a living writing, he has to make his work accessible to others. There's almost always an audience out there (no matter how big or small) that will understand your work.

    I feel like most writers don't have to compromise anything when writing. After all, a writer is limited by the language he writes in, so unless he writes in an invented language, chances are that someone's going to understand the work.
     
  4. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    I was going to write a nice explanetory piece on how the writer must communicate effectively to the reader, and if the target audience doesn't get it, then the writer had better have a solid day job, but FrankB put so simply and perfectly, that anything I write would be pointless. So why did I post this anyway? I have no idea. :confused:
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This has been probably the biggest question in critical thought through the past 20-30 years. After Barthes so persuasively announced the death of the author, a lot of critics have focussed on the idea that audience interpretation takes precedence over authorial intent, since so much of a given text's meaning lies beyond its "author"'s control. Reader response, intertextuality, (re)contextualisation, all of these things and countless others have a profound effect on how a work is read and how its meaning is extracted, and cannot be invalidated. If an author meant X, but I understood Y, which is the more valid reading? Both interpretations are grounded in the same evidence, so saying the author's intent is the only answer is entirely arbitrary; he has no more claim to authority over meaning than I do. It's often useful to know what an author intended when writing a work, however privileging his authority over yours or anyone else's is misguided. Furthermore, a failure of a writer who intends X to have his audience understand X is not necessarily a failure. In fact, works that operate in that way are generally the least interesting. Consider, for instance, Orwell's 1984. Even at the time of writing, there were numerous ways to interpret the novel. Now, decades later, given how recent history has transpired, it is possible to read the novel in an entirely new context and discover new meaning. Considering its place in a newly emerged Dystopian fiction canon, it can be read in yet another way. Meaning is something that shifts over time, and while we can learn what Orwell initially intended, we should not limit our understanding to that original interpretation.

    (Wow, that got a little theoretical, and I think I'm no longer answering the question....)

    Basically, you as a writer have no responsibility for your readers' experience of your work. Write however you want to, produce whatever you want to: that is the extent of your power and your responsibility. You cannot control how your work in interpreted once it leaves your hands, and you are not responsible for the various interpretations (or lack thereof) that will arise.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Importance is relative. Something may be important to person A but not to person B.

    Also, importance can change over time. For example, Moby Dick wasn't highly thought of when it was published and sold very poorly. It was only after Melville's death that critics reappraised it, and now it's regarded as one of the greatest American novels.
     
  7. Lee Shelly
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    Lee Shelly Member

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    Hopefully, they would both be one and the same... I want my audience to have the reaction that I want them to have. If I write something scary, I want the audience to be scared. If I write something sad, I want to make people feel sad. Intent and reaction should, I believe, overlap. If I want my audience to feel something, and they do not, it's like FrankB said: I have failed as a writer.
     
  8. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    It rather depend on why the writer writes, why the artist creates.

    If he writes to make money, to communicate important ideas, to feel less alone, then audience reaction is important. (It might be remembered that that audience might not include you: the reasearcher writing technical papers for his peers; or, as Emerson has it, Plato and Kant and Aquinas et al communicating with each other across the ages)

    If his writing is an exercise in catharsis, fulfils a psychological need, then audience reaction is neither here nor there, will not matter (to the writer).

    Kurt Vonnegut says somewhere that the artist/writer might be saying to himself, ' my marriage is failing, my kids are addicts, my job stinks but by God I can make this piece of A4, this canvas, quite perfect.'

    If in making it perfect he makes it less intelligible, so it goes.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see the point in writing something that will remain unread and won't entertain. When somone reads my work and says they are sad the story ended or they read it in a night then ask can they share it with a friend that is why I write.

    But almost my favourite is when people having read my stories speak about my characters as though they are real lol
     
  10. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I agree with both FrankB and Arron, although they're saying almost opposite things. I think it's a compromise in most cases, or in other words -- it's communication, but going both ways. The writer writes a line, and in your own mind, as a reader, you come up with a reaction to it, drawn from your own life experience and thoughts.

    When a writer has failed is when the reader stops taking part in this "discussion".

    When they become passive.

    Most clearly demonstrated when the cinema audience yawns their jaws off during the oh-so-suspenseful car chase.
     
  11. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Totally agreed.

    How many times have you read a really poor, pretentious poem - and the writer has accused you of simply not understanding their "ambiguity" ?

    The audience's reaction is all that matters, because you're writing it for them. It won't matter what your intention was if it wasn't even delivered correctly. If you can't produce a piece that communicates the point, then you need to start practising more, not defending your "art".

    I certainly think alot of poets/play writers in particular use "ambiguity" as an excuse for poor work.
     
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  12. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    And conversely, a lot of bad readers use "ambiguity" as an excuse for lazy reading. Just because something isn't immediately transparent, doesn't mean its meaningless. Sometimes as a reader you just need to be a little more open to things, or be willing to do a little research or critical reading to understand a text. Sometimes the ambiguity or difficulty is nothing more than an illusion of difficulty--I think this is certainly the case with writers like Beckett.
     
  13. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes. And sometimes that difficulty is very real, apparently insurmountable.

    If a four year old fails to comprehend a resonably straightforward novel, is that the author's 'fault' or the child's.

    If I fail to understand Wittgenstein, is that his 'fault' or mine?
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ashleigh is right sometimes the author is completely up themselves.

    Very few writers have the talent to make it worthwhile trawlling through the disordered working of their minds to discover that in the name of 'art' the characterisation and story are rubbish. Nothing turns me off a story faster than discovering it has won a literary prize, every so often a gem like Cloud Atlas comes along but generally they are dull, boring and unengaging stories. Nine times out of ten they are stories that have been so intent on being written cleverly they have forgotten someone else has to read them.
     
  15. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed, but can this quality of work be seen in most ameteurs? Hardly, and if they can, they'll probably go on to be one of the great writers.

    But as for the average Joe, I wouldn't give them credit where it isn't really due; most of the time they are just being pretentious.
     
  16. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If a four year old can't understand a novel, it's obviously not the author's fault...not entirely sure what you're getting at with there?

    As with Wittgenstein and others like him (Lacan for me...he's the worst), there are certain people who enjoy trying to wrap their heads around that kind of dense, philosophical, theoretical work. Writers like that aren't writing for the mainstream, though, they're writing for a small group of dedicated readers and writers, mostly academic, who respond in kind. Think of it as a literary fetish, whatever floats your boat.

    As for the idea that literature prize winners are worthless because the story isn't good...a lot of literary writers are (in my opinion, and apparently many other people's too, correctly) of the opinion that story is essentially worthless. It's a means to a more important end.
     
  17. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    A four year old failing to read a novel isn't anyone's fault, it's just a case of being the wrong audience all together.

    I remember looking at the books my dad was reading, when I was a kid, and wondering how on earth he could enjoy that sort of thing. He's read alot of literary and genre fiction, and now I do the same.

    I would never blame an author for writing work that just wasn't my cup of tea.
     
  18. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    What is the point of a work of fiction with a rubbish story? Poorly drawn characters? For me when I pick up a book the more important end is that I had a great time and my life was enriched - not that some pretentious idiot decided to bore me stupid for greater end.

    I love great literature. Many literary greats can use their skills AND tell a great story,
     
  19. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    The four year old is not a member of the author's target audience because he wants maturity and has rather weak powers of comprehension.

    I am not part of Wittgestein's audience because I am not smart enough. No shame in conceding this. Who exactly constitutes his audience is another matter. Russell, Moore recognised the genius but remained (largely) baffled.

    The author of a 'literary' novel has (perhaps) an audience in mind. Those with a refined understanding of language; those with an understanding of the 'history' of the novel..whatever. Again, you may not be a part of his audience. You may want to be and indeed, through hard work, you may yet become part of the audience..

    That is not to say, naturally, that some writers do not produce utter wankery. :)
     
  20. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Interesting topic.

    The example it brings to mind for me is a song, not a novel or a story, written by Joni Mitchell in 1967 called Little Green. The song's meaning is a little opaque if only that it is interspersed with a goodly bit of very 60's folksie imaging, and had I not purchased a documentary video about Mitchell, I would never have connected the fact that this song is about a child she had in her youth and then gave up for adoption. Perhaps had I grown up at the time that this music was happening and not decades later, I would have known these facts, but I didn't. I discovered Mitchell out of time and this song out of context and thus the song was pretty, but lacking in meaning for me until such time as I was schooled.

    I guess my question comes down to, as the reader/listener with an abundant choice of materials from which to choose and a very limited amount of time in which to enjoy said materials, should I agree with the idea that some schooling is required to enjoy the material?

    Kinda' like if I have to learn to like red wine, do I really like it, or have I just learned to control my reflex to spit it immediately out?
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Story and characters are not the same thing, and you will in fact find that the majority of the Booker and Pulitzer (and, to a certain extent, Nobel) prize winners are renowned for their complex and compelling characters. What is more important is style, and (speaking for myself and probably a significant chunk of literary fiction readers) finding a truly original, engaging, interesting style of writing is infinitely more rewarding than an interesting story. I think you'll find that this attitude towards story tends to be common to a great deal of great literature...most of the classics I can think of can be more or less summed up in a sentence or two. What made them great was not the story, but the way the story was told.

    Anyway, this is getting a little off-topic and I don't want to derail what is a pretty interesting thread...
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think this is definitely something that needs to be considered on a case by case basis. On the one hand, you have works like Lolita and Ulysses, which are vastly enriched if you are willing to look into the huge range of literary allusions, follow along with the intricate puzzles and patterns, and generally put in a lot of effort. It's a you-only-get-out-what-you-put-in kinda deal. That said, if you can't find anything to like about the book without hours of research, then it probably isn't worth going to the extra effort.
     
  23. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ooh, that is a good question. Might we break it down to this?

    Does the person who fully understands a Britney Spears' track (but who fails to understand Mitchell) derive more or less from the experience of listening to it than another derives from listening to, and fully understanding, a Mitchell track?

    Whose heart swells the more? Whose spirit is lifted more? Whose existing level of comprehension is better cultivated?

    Every part of me would like to believe that the latter gets more from it than the former. Would like to believe...
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Speaking for myself I get as much joy from both. Both have their place, my playlist has just gone from Hildegarde von Bingen's work to Ken Dodd's happiness to lady gaga to dolly parton now John Barrowman's version of Fireflies next is Joan Arnatrading followed by Billie Piper Honey to the Bee and after that Strange Fruit by Nina Simone- All are good all lift my spirit. Not sure a Britney song is any less than Joni Mitchell. Personally think Dolly Parton is the most amazing storyteller through song.

    Just as I have gone from reading Cows in Action a junior fiction series that is a hoot to delving into Castle Rackrent. Both have their place.
     
  25. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I ask the question honestly. I found myself on both sides of the argument with the Mitchell track. I adore Joni Mitchell. I knew and sang the song by heart and it was pretty and filled of images that were compelling but disjointed. I learned what the song was about. Parts that made no sense suddenly connected and the piece became a whole unit and was made profound.

    But... Had I never come across that video and learned what I learned, the song would have remained opaque and less than it really is, so I ask the sublime Miss Mitchell, why so opaque? Why did only a chance encounter with a random bit of knowledge allow me to truly enjoy what you had made?
     
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