A couple of thoughts on creative work. . .

I know it's very difficult sometimes in reading poetry to know what the writer meant. In general, I write literally, as in 'Initiation', but sometimes I write metaphorically, as in 'Pneumonia' (although in that one the title rather gives it away)(both in 'Winter Past'). I don't think this metaphorical/literal dichotomy matters all that much. (For example, in 'Pneumonia' the important thing is not that it was, for me, about having pneumonia, but about going into the shadows and the struggle back out again - and perhaps the implied thought that sometimes 'going with the flow' may not be all it is cracked up to be.) What gives any creative writing its authority, if any, is the way it resonates in your heart and mind, the way it may help you to see yourself and others and the universe around you from another angle that enriches your experience of life. And if other people's writing doesn't do this for you, you definitely need to write for yourself.

Actually, you probably need to do that anyway.

I'm also a great believer in the KISS Principle (Keep It Simple, Sweetwings), but since I'm one of these people that goes to look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary and spends a half an hour reading it, forgetting what I went for in the first place, I also believe in using exactly the right word, when there is one available, even if it's a bit unusual.

And if that leads you to spend a half an hour in the dictionary, that seems all to the good to me. It's an interesting place to visit.

If a story or poem or painting needs an explanation, then something went wrong. I can make an abstract painting of lots of squiggly lines and tell you a long-winded story about it representing my horror of warfare, but if the painting itself doesn't tell you that, by itself, then it's just a less-than-adequate illustration for my story. I don't know where the idea came from that paintings or poems shouldn't have inherent meaning, but should have to have long explications, often by people who didn't paint or write them. I have an awful suspicion that it came from people who didn't really have anything worth saying and was taken up by people who didn't have any creativity, but had lots to say, whether it was worth saying or not. If it sounds like I maybe think that critics are often a waste of time, you've got it. I suppose the editors the Sunday magazines of newspapers and various other publications about Culcha have to fill up the space somehow. (Although, think of the trees that could still be standing if they didn't.)

For instance, there is a certain tendency toward contempt by "fine artists" whose paintings have no real meaning for those whose paintings can actually speak to the hearts and minds of the viewers. This seems quite backwards to me. If a painting has nothing to say, really it is just wallpaper. Expensive wallpaper, perhaps. Beautiful wallpaper, maybe. But just wallpaper. If it doesn't grab you by the heart, it ain't art. (I know this is true because a London gallery owner said so. :)

Writing now, writing serves a lot of purposes - sometimes catharsis for the writer, sometimes communication of thoughts, skills, emotions, wisdom, humor - whatever. Some of these purposes are very mundane; others quite transcendent. The question must be "How well did the writer achieve what he set out to do?" Sometimes, we can't answer that question - either because we lack information about the intent or because we lack the knowledge that would enable us to understand. I just accept that. What I find strange is the fact that so many people want to tell each other how to look at paintings, how to read poems, how to understand a story. Sure, sometimes we need to learn something in order to appreciate a work of art. That's valid. What isn't valid is someone making a judgement about whether something is "good" or "bad" based on their limited knowledges and personal prejudices - and then expecting the rest of us to follow like sheep, just because they said so.

Think of the people who might begin to think for themselves if other people were not quite so anxious to think for them.

So really, we're back to the idea of Doing It Yourself. What I think is so wonderful about the WWW is that anyone and everyone can put their stuff up for all the world to see, and anyone and everyone can respond to it in the privacy of their own minds and hearts, without having to be fashionable or clever - although, even in their own minds, some people find it difficult to be real. Here is our chance to be authentic with one another, regardless of our past and prejudices.

I guess I'm hoping that in some way the WWW might help us to cut through some of the posing and bullshitting that passes for thought in our society and help us to, more and more, find our own true voices and to be enriched by each others' slant on reality.

Which is why I'm here. I'm glad you're here, too.

© Copyright 1996 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
This essay may not be reproduced without the writer's written permission.
First published in Otherworld Arts, March, 1996.
Your comments will be read with interest.