Art Speaks

I found an old post in my files and found it to still ring very much true. So I edited it a bit and posted. Hope it rings true for you guys, as well!

Let’s talk about art.

Anything? Anyone want to go first?

Okay, I’ll go first.

I love art. Really, really, love it. I’m the girl who almost cries at the opera and stares giddy at the ballet and can spend hours going on and on about how beautiful a shot is framed in a movie. I have to put down books sometimes because I’m so overwhelmed by someone’s writing—or just by the feel of the story. Once, while reading someone’s ARC, I scribbled the margins full of “OMG MY FEELINGS. MY FEELINGS.”

The thing I’ve come to realize about art is that the more I “get” it, the more I love it.

I’ll try to explain, since I know that doesn’t make a ton of sense.

I used to not be a huge film buff. I watched movies, of course, and television, but I preferred my books. Film, I thought, all high-and-mighty. They just…show you everything. And those weird indy films? So boring.

Then one day, I watched a director’s commentary for a film. I can’t even remember which film it was, but the director kept talking about how he’d chosen this one shot for this reason—emotional, thematic, etc, etc—and that shot for another, and how the costume designer had picked these clothes for this character because…and so on. I was utterly captivated.

Suddenly—just a tiny, tiny bit—I got film. I saw beyond the “product” to the “meaning” behind the product. I’m now super into film, and cinematography, and yes, if I think you’ll stand for it, I’ll pause a movie and rhapsodize about the framing of a shot.

There’s always danger in discussing what an artist is trying to say with a piece of work. For many people, art should stand on its own. For them, a book, a film, a painting “says” things all by itself, and what the creator meant doesn’t matter. In large part, I agree with this, which is why whenever I’m asked in an interview about messages I want people to take away from What’s Left of Me or Once We Were, I always say that messages are up to the reader to figure out for themselves, not for the author to broadcast. I think that’s part of the brilliance of art—different people come to a piece of work and leave with something completely unique.

Art speaks on its own. Sometimes, it says things to certain people that the author never meant to say. I’ve  stopped reading reviews, but back when I did, I discovered people who saw things in What’s Left of Me I never imagined anyone would ever see. Some of these things are in accordance with my world views—things I would proudly say in real life. Some are the very opposite of what I actually believe, and initially, I was horrified that anyone would think I ever meant to imply such a thing through my story.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Stories speak. Art speaks. On purpose. By accident. That’s why it can be so powerful. Personally, I believe that as writers/artists/whatever, we do have a responsibility to be careful about what we say—even accidentally. I do spend time thinking, “What sort of message am I sending by having this character do this? Or by having this happen?”

But on the other hand, I will never catch everything. And sometimes things just need to happen. Sometimes the yellow curtains are just yellow because I happened to sit on a yellow crayon while writing, not because of some deep psychological meaning I’m trying to get across.

Somebody (probably many somebodies) will always find some part of my story/characterization and construct it to mean something I never wanted it to mean. But you know what? That’s fine. That’s more than fine. That’s great. Because every time that happens, I learn a little more. I get to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I am more careful the next time.

Art speaks, and not only to the audience, but to the creator, as well.

Do you pay attention to your themes and possible messages when you write?

8 Responses to Art Speaks

  1. Day Apr 14 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I love this! I always knew that art was open to interpretation, but never more so than when I read reviews on my own book. I don’t think Tolkien could have ever dreamed that his series would be the iconic giant that it is today. It never ceases to fascinate me how humans perceive the words around them.

    • Kat Zhang Apr 15 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      Thank you! And I’m always amazed by everything Tolkien built 🙂

  2. Nita Apr 14 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Oh, you need to watch The Village and then the director’s commentary after. Amazing!!! I was verklempt!

    • Kat Zhang Apr 15 2014 at 1:19 pm #

      I’m too much of a wimp for horror movies >.< maybe I'll just watch the commentary 😉 I know the main plot already.

  3. Sandy Apr 17 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    On Once Upon a Time for the most part the costumes are fantastic and I follow a blog that does analysis on the costumes for characters and it’s really eye-opening how the colour or texture of an article of clothing means.

  4. Hamed Apr 19 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    At last!
    Reading yours and your co-Pubcrawler gals’ articles, I always wanted to start talking about art in general but it always seemed too pretentious. So this time I have to warn you: ”you started it.”
    I like your Idea about artists’ responsibility toward the messages they send out but not like that. I think they should only be concern about the quality of the art’s message and not about the quiddity of the message. You, As an artist- I think- should say what you think is right how radical or weird it is. You may think it can get dangerous but I can assure you the worst kind of censorship is self-censorship. And believe you me, an Iranian knows about his censorship.
    Any ways…
    It would be exciting if we could talk about what art is and does it really exist but I guess it needs a new post. Would you please write about art more?
    And, for me it was Three Colors: Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski, narrated by his assistant.

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